DNA Technology Regulation Bill -Explained

Recently the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) asked the government to pay “careful attention” to the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019. The PSC mentioned the DNA Technology Bill as very technical, complex and sensitive. But the PSC also mentioned the advantages of the Bill. All this raises the important question. Is India ready to have the DNA Technology Bill?

Need for such DNA Technology Bill in India:

First, countries having such legislation like the USA, have proved a significant increase in conviction rate. According to NCRB, India’s conviction rate is 48.8% only in 2017. The conviction rate can improve significantly if the DNA Bill is enacted in India.

Second,  in India, Each year more than 4000 FIRs filed for not recognising the victim’s body. Not only that, In India around 175 persons missing each day.   The bill will help in identifying them very easily with scientific intrastate co-operation.

Third, the Bill will come in handy during the parental disputes resolution. The Bill can also establish the identity of missing children and baby-swapping cases in hospitals.

Fourth, accurate and faster investigation of crime is feasible. Since the Bill maintains a database for convicts and suspects, the crime scene investigation will completely be based on scientific principles. This can result in a faster and accurate investigation by police officers.

Fifth, the Bill will help in research works in DNA and also create employment opportunities for skilled manpower and other non-skilled jobs.

Significance of DNA technology:

DNA analysis is extremely useful and accurate. DNA analysis can ascertain the identity of a person from his/her DNA sample. The DNA sample can also establish biological relationships between individuals. For example, A hair sample or blood stains from clothes taken from a scene of the crime can clearly establish whether the DNA in the sample belongs to the suspected individual or not.

As a result, DNA technology is being increasingly relied upon in investigations of crime, identification of unidentified bodies, or in determining parentage, etc.

Salient provisions of the DNA Technology Bill, 2019:

First, the Bill mentions the situations under which DNA Data will be used. Under the Bill, DNA testing is allowed only in respect of 4 matters. They are,

    1. For offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 
    2. Civil disputes and other civil matters related to paternity suits, or to identify abandoned children.
    3. Offences under certain special legislations like Immoral Trafficking prevention Act, MTP Act etc. 
    4. Medical negligence or unidentified human remains

Second, while preparing a DNA profile, bodily substances of persons may be collected by the investigating authorities. There are certain conditions mentioned under which the DNA will be collected. Like, 

  • For arrested persons, if the offence carries a punishment of up to seven years. Consent is needed to collect the DNA sample.  
  • If the offence carries more than seven years of imprisonment or death, consent is not required.  

Third, the Act establishes the DNA Data Bank.  The data banks will be established at the National and regional level. At the regional level, the data bank will be established for every state or two or more states.  

Fourth, the Bill states that the criteria for entry, retention or removal of the DNA profile will be specified by regulations. The Bill provides that the information contained in the crime scenes will be retained.

Fifth, the Bill also establishes a DNA Regulatory Board. This DNA Regulatory Board will supervise the DNA Data Banks and DNA Laboratories. The Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, will be the ex officio Chairperson of the Board.  

Sixth, the Bill also has a provision of mandatory accreditation from the Board to establish DNA Laboratories in India. The Board may revoke the accreditation for reasons such as failure to undertake DNA testing or the non-compliance of DNA Lab with the conditions attached to the accreditation. 

Arguments against the Bill:

First, concerns regarding the collection of DNA itself. DNA is the base of any individual person. DNA not only not just reveal how a person looks, or what their eye colour or skin colour is. It will also reveal more intrusive information like their allergies, or susceptibility to diseases etc

Second, the collection of DNA has also seen as a violation of two Fundamental Rights. Such as Right to Privacy under Article 21 and Right against self-discrimination under Article 23. The Bill is also seen as a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Third, science advances more quickly than law. Scientific laws if legislated, they need frequent course corrections to prevent misuse. In India, there are few legislations which are being used for centuries without any amendments. Failure to bring the amendment at a necessary stage will create a plethora of problems.

Fourth, there are only 15 DNA profiling labs in India. DNA Training Academy also faces a shortage of manpower. Considering this situation one cannot ensure a smooth implementation like DNA profiling, etc

Fifth, there is also a privacy concern. The DNA data can be misused just like other personal information like Cambridge Analytica scandal of Face book. For example, the Andhra government signed up with a private firm to collect DNA data from all citizens. The private firm may misuse the data for profit motives.

Lastly, there is also a possibility of Miscarriage of Justice. Like by planting innocent person DNA in crime scenes to confuse the investigation and if a crime scene is occurred in commonplace then many innocent might be harassed.

Arguments favors DNA technology Bill:

First, there will be no racial and communal profiling possible. The government mentions it will store very limited information in the DNA profile. That is just 17 sets of information (from the billions of information available in DNA sample). This will not reveal any personal data about an individual. 

Second, DNA tests are already happening without any regulatory safeguards. The PSC in its recent report mentions the importance of the DNA Bill to bring the DNA tests into the ambit of the law.

Third, an individual’s privacy is ensured in the Bill. The Bill has very specific provisions for the collection of DNA data. The DNA is not collected from common people and it is collected from the convicts and missing person. The PSC also supported the view in its recent report.

Way forward:

First, the law would be better implemented if the Data Protection Bill based on the Sri Krishna Committee is passed first. Since the Data Protection Bill fixes the privacy of data protection.

Second, there is also a need for a robust procedure and policy for collection of DNA samples, within the constitutional provisions like respecting Article 21. Apart from that the policy also has to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In conclusion, It is much-needed legislation.  If implemented clearly then there going to be the voluntary submission of DNA. But that will be possible if the government enacts the Bill with necessary checks and balances. 

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