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AIIMS forensic dept calls for one-stop sexual assault examination centres with DNA testing facilities

In a symposium on the 'Role of Forensic DNA Technology in Expediting Justice and Fighting Crime' held here on Wednesday, an expert panel led by the forensic department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) called for country-wide implementation of one-stop sexual assault examination, care, and research centres enabled with state-of-the-art DNA collection and testing facilities.

Dr Sudhir K Gupta, Head, Department of Forensic Medicine, AIIMS, New Delhi said, "The lack of proper facilities at hospitals has a direct correlation with the quality of DNA evidence collected."

"The results for the vaginal swabs and semen samples can be analysed quickly to help catch the culprit but currently 80-90 per cent samples do not yield viable results either because they are not collected and sealed properly, or because they are stored at an unsuitable temperature. There is a dire need for educating and training first-line responders on proper collection and handling of DNA samples while at the same time creating a dedicated infrastructure to attend to rape survivors," he added.

Even though 40,000 cases of rape have been reported in India every year, post-trauma care that survivors get at authorised hospitals remain poor. Presently, government hospitals just provide a room in the existing gynaecological emergency with no dedicated forensic staff and even send them off to the regular OPD (out-patient department) which can take days.

Dr Deepa Verma, Director, Delhi FSL said, "Creation of one-stop sexual assault examination and care centres is a step in the right direction. In any case pertaining to sexual assault or rape at known or unknown sites, forensic evidence needs to be preserved at all costs and handled with care."

"We have noticed a steady rise in demand for DNA testing and are increasing our capacity to assist investigators. We are planning to constitute specialised trained crime scene examination teams to ensure quick retrieval of forensic evidence while ensuring proper collection and preservation," she added.

Forensic DNA has emerged as the most reliable crime-fighting technology the world over. Many countries are effectively using forensic labs and protocols to collect, test and compare DNA at crime scenes with that of suspects with promising results. Where the law machinery world over is increasingly relying on DNA forensics to solve crime, the pace in India has been slow.

Lack of scientific methods in investigations and the absence of a proper policy framework in the country continue to hamper justice, the panel observed.