In the tug-of-war at K’taka FSL, private labs reap benefits

Supremacy wars are marring forensic investigations at the FSL and the infighting is resulting in close to 30 per cent pendency

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In the fight between the police department and scientists at the Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Karnataka, private labs are making a quick buck. Despite having a full-fledged lab and qualified scientific officers, the exchequer is spending lakhs on private labs for forensic investigations, thanks to the growing pendency at the FSL.

Tug-of-war at K’taka FSL

Supremacy wars are marring forensic investigations at FSL and the tug-of-war is resulting in close to 30 per cent pendency. Out of the average 20,000 cases that are received at the FSL on an annual basis, only close to 16,000 are being disposed of. With the increase in the number of cases every year, the pendency rates are only getting worse. While those heading the department claim that it is a result of the lab being short-staffed, inside information reveals the actual state of affairs.

"Private lab reports are admissible in court under section 45 of Evidence Act. under this section, the court only needs the opinion of an expert and that then falls on a private lab. Also, no criminal cases are referred to private labs, but civil cases involving Questioned Document examination (any document that is questioned in court). They are faster," said a senior police officer.

While the police claim that private labs are faster and reliable, scientists at the FSL have a different take. "Only a scientific examination carried out by a government body is admissible in court. Why have a state-run FSL in the first place if private labs are what they need? We have enough staff for the Questioned Document section, but cases are being moved to private labs deliberately. Most cases are diverted to private labs to ensure that the investigators get the results that they want. They claim that the FSL delays reports but won't allow promotions to posts of scientific officers to head various sections," said a scientist with the FSL.

The government's move to reorganise FSL has not gone down well with the staff, primarily for the reason that Indian Police Service officers and not scientists will be allowed to head the department. "Forensic labs across the country are led by scientists. It is only in Karnataka that a police officer heads it. Our credibility is taking a hit and the same is being reflected in reports that go to the courts ultimately," another official added.

Acknowledging that delay in disposal by FSL becomes a problem in an investigation, an official associated with the police as well as the FSL said, "The FSL gets reminder letters on a daily basis and tries to dispose of cases as early as possible. The onus is on FSL and the plan is to ideally dispose a case within 15 days. Private labs being sought is something that we do not like. They are, after all, a competition to the state-run FSL. The burden to the exchequer is true but it is a temporary solution. The various sections in the FSL do not have scientific officers and are making do with staff from other sections. The issue of staff and space will be sorted with the new building and increase in staff strength that has been approved by the government. Currently, the FSL has a strength of 184 members which will be increased to 284 and that should pave way for zero pendency."

The government in its notification dated October 18, 2016, has mentioned that an IPS officer may be posted as director of the FSL but only such officers who have a background in science. Objections to the same were sought and sources reveal that 125 objections to the same were filed but were not considered by the government. Meanwhile, the government plans to ensure the presence of FSL officials in 33 districts in the next 6 months.

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