mid-day impact: Government puts multi-crore proposal for DNA testing kit on hold

Updated: Apr 03, 2018, 11:59 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Following a series of reports in this newspaper questioning the state forensic department's rationale behind ordering the expensive DNA testing kits, government puts multi-crore proposal on hold

The Rapid DNA Analysis machine
The Rapid DNA Analysis machine

mid-day impact >> The State Forensic Science Laboratory's (FSL) most eagerly awaited procurement, the Rapid DNA Analysis system, has been put on hold by the state government, at least for the time being. A high-level meeting to discuss procurement was held on Saturday, chaired by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) S K Shrivastava, Principal Secretary (Special) Rajnish Seth, Director General (Legal and Technical) S P Yadav, Acting Director (FSL), Dr K Y Kulkarni and other members from the State Purchase Committee.

Highly placed sources attached to the Mantralaya informed this paper that the state government had sanctioned Rs 6 crore in the last budget for the procurement of machines and equipment for the State FSL. "All procurements above Rs 10 lakh, as per set norms, have to be done by the purchase committee," the official said.

No permission
He added, "The department had placed an order for Headspace Gas Chromatography (2 machines, R50 lakh each), High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) (1 machine for R40 lakh) and Rapid DNA machine (1 machine for R2.50 crore). The committee sanctioned permission for the first two, but put the Rapid DNA machine on hold.

mid-day had published a series of reports highlighting the reservations that forensic scientists in India and USA had on the Rapid DNA technology — 'Maharashtra to be the first to get R2 crore Rapid DNA Analysis Machine (March 9) and 'Without Criminal Database, DNA machine can't work' (March 14). Insiders at the meeting said, "The committee did not even want to see the presentation on the Rapid DNA machine." Now, there is no question of the proposal even going to the chief minister.

Budget reduced
This also means that FSL's sanctioned budget of R6 crore has been reduced after deducting the cost of the Rapid DNA machine. "It is very disappointing because the money could have been used to upgrade the seven regional laboratories," explained a senior forensic scientist, who wished anonymity.

Dr Kulkarni refused to comment on Saturday's meeting. Dr Harish Pathak, professor and head of the forensic department at KEM Medical College, said, "We were of the opinion right from the beginning that the Rapid DNA machine is not useful for case work samples. Also, scientists from the US had expressed apprehension about the utility and cost effectiveness of the same."

Sanjeev Sharma, who represents a US-based company manufacturing rapid DNA in Gurgaon, said, "I heard the government has put on hold the procurement of the Rapid DNA machine. However, whenever a fresh tender comes up, we will place our bid."

The other side
When contacted, DG (Technical and Legal) S P Yadav downplayed the matter stating that the Rapid DNA machine did not even come up during the meeting and hence the question of its approval or not did not arise. And, on asking if the same would come up in this year's procurement, he said, "It is for the government to decide."

Why Rapid DNA
To increase the speed of forensic DNA analysis, the state FSL was keen on procuring Rapid DNA Analysis Systems. The technology was touted as being able to give results in less than two hours and would be used for handling high-profile cases. Maharashtra would have been the first state to have such a high-tech system. However, forensic scientists from across the country were not keen on the procurement of the machine for two reasons – the machine costs over Rs 2 crore and each DNA analysis sample might cost approx Rs 19,000.

Rapid DNA technology is not currently suitable for crime scene samples. Crime scene samples are often irreplaceable, and Rapid DNA instruments consume the entire sample. Also, crime scene samples often have low amounts of DNA present, contain DNA from more than one person (mixtures), and may have damaged or degraded DNA thereby necessitating that those DNA results be evaluated by a trained forensic DNA analyst only.

Rs 2.5 cr
Cost of a Rapid DNA machine

Also read: Missing Cloth merchant case: Cops exhume body for DNA test as accused confess to murder

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