Corruption cases are piling in court, thanks to an acute staff crunch at the state’s Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in the city. Some 106 cases registered with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Mumbai, are in abeyance because the state’s FSL in Kalina is experiencing extreme manpower shortage. In fact, its voice testing department — called the tape authentication and speaker identification (TASI) division — has no technical staff left. In the absence of deft hands to test voice samples, evidence against the accused cannot be corroborated, leading to corruption cases piling up in court.
The facts have come to light following an RTI query filed by activist Jitendra Dhagde, a resident of Opera House. Dhagde said that a friend who works with the Mumbai ACB as a police officer apprised him of the decline in the conviction rate of corruption cases in court. It was as low as 15 per cent in 2009-2010.
The officer specifically mentioned that they were not getting test results of TASI analysis from the Kalina lab, which was hampering progress in various cases. Dhagde decided to uncover the facts for himself. He filed an RTI application on March 13 this year. The reply (copy with this paper), dated March 27, 2012, bore out the poor state of affairs at the FSL. A total of 106 cases are lying unresolved with the TASI.
Bad test score
As per the RTI response, between 2007 and 2011, some 288 graft cases with samples of telephonic and digital conversations of the accused public servants were referred to the TASI, which was started in 2007. In the first two years since its commencement (see box), tests were conducted for all the cases, and results delivered within the stipulated time period. Since 2009, however, the number of cases tested began plummeting, in so far as only two of 38 cases were tested in 2011. The two preceding years showed abysmal performance too. In 2009, of the 59 cases referred, 15 remain pending. In 2010, of the 59 cases submitted, 55 are pending (see box).
Then there were none
The tumbling performance is correlated to a simultaneously rising attrition in the TASI technical staff. A senior official at the Kalina lab said, “The cases started coming to TASI division since 2007. We had trained 15 officials who were hired on a contractual basis. Over a period of time, most of them left after their contract expired. With the limited staff, the testing was done for a few high-profile cases.
However, between January and February this year, the contract period of almost all the experts expired. The last scientific official left the department on February 16, 2012.”He said that high-profile cases are being tested, and samples being collected till now. But due to the non-existence of scientists, the results are being delayed.
“We are in dialogue with the home department, which has allowed us to hire 20-25 technical staffers on urgent basis. The notification is expected within the next few days. Immediately thereafter, the advertisements will be put in local papers, and the selection process will begin,” he added.
Need more hands
Rukmini Krishnamurthy, former director of the FSL and founder of TASI, said, “It is unfortunate that the department which was started for supporting the criminal justice system by using scientific evidence is going through such a phase. If such a huge volume of cases is pending, it will hamper the ongoing court cases. Though it is difficult in the government to get sanctions for recruitment, especially for contractual appointments, I feel it is the duty of the FSL’s director to convince the government and get the approval for the required manpower and experienced hands.”
Director General of Police (ACB) Sanjeev Dayal confirmed to MiD DAY that the cases do get affected in court. “I had personally spoken about the issue with then FSL director M V Garad, and he had spoken of the problem of inadequate staff. The matter was even raised with the additional chief secretary (home). The government is trying to do its best to see that the staff is provided at the earliest, at least on a contractual basis.” Garad chose to remain tightlipped, saying only that he was retired, and was not authorised to make any statement on such grave issues.
The state government has officially sanctioned the recruitment of 931 people as of January 1, 2012 for FSL, Kalina. In response, only 265 posts are filled.
Senior counsel Rohini Salian said, “If the prosecution’s case is based on voice samples, then the findings of FSL are decisive. Without the test reports, the ACB cannot file a chargesheet and the entire trial can collapse.”
Salian added, “If the Kalina laboratory did not have the required infrastructure, why did they open the TASI division in the very first place? The ACB can send the samples to labs based outside Maharashtra.” Responding to Salian’s suggestion, a senior ACB official said, “We cannot afford to send samples to labs in other states, as we may find it difficult to have their presence in the court during the trial period.”