The charred body of young Nitish Katara was identified based on the fingerprints expert’s report and Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of Indian Penal Code. It was added to the First Information Report on February 25, 2002.
Nitish Katara’s case is not an isolated instance where fingerprints played a crucial role in the investigation. Be it the high-profile Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, the brutal murder of seven members of a family at Inderlok in 2006, or the recent Ponty Chadha murder case, fingerprints have on several occasions shown the way to the police.
Though the role of fingerprints in crime investigation cannot be over-emphasised, fingerprints experts at the lone Delhi Finger Print Bureau, the only scientific unit within the Delhi Police framework, are not a happy lot. They complain about lack of infrastructure, stagnation and indifferent attitude of the authorities.
Operating from a two-room set in the Kamla Market police station building, the Bureau lacks adequate space to keep case records and something as basic as a well-equipped laboratory.
“Though the government has spent large sums of money to procure the latest equipment and chemicals, it is all lying unused for want of space to set up a laboratory. Also, there is not enough space to keep the records. While the case records since 2010 are kept in a room in this building, the earlier files are lying unattended at Malviya Nagar,” said a senior fingerprints expert.
Set up in 1985, the Bureau then comprised one Assistant Commissioner of Police, two Inspectors, 14 Sub-Inspectors and 19 Assistant Sub-Inspectors. And almost three decades down the line the number of sanctioned posts remains the same though the workload has increased manifold.
“The number of police stations since the inception of the Bureau has gone up from 70 to 180, immensely increasing the workload, but the number of sanctioned posts remains unchanged. The mounting work pressure not just affects the experts’ performance, but also slows down the pace of investigation,” said the fingerprints expert.
“Besides,” he said, “there are no fingerprints experts in the district crime teams and at the police stations and it is the constables who are entrusted with the task of taking fingerprints of the accused and lifting the fingerprints from crime spots. This compromises the investigation. Though the police have procured the latest technology, it is of little use if experts do not handle it.”
The fingerprints experts are a special cadre recruited at the ASI-level with the minimum qualification being Bachelors of Science and some of them are even post-graduates and scholars.
In the absence of opportunities of promotion, a sense of frustration has crept into the cadre and is affecting the functioning of the Bureau. “I was among the first to be recruited to the Bureau as Sub-Inspector in 1987 and since then there has been no promotion. Things have come to such a stage that any new batch of ASIs now inducted would retire without promotion. It is so frustrating and de-motivating,” said one of them.
“The science of fingerprint identification has been able to assert its standing among forensic sciences for many reasons. It is the cheapest and the most reliable. Also it can be a complete evidence in itself. But it continues to be neglected in North India, especially in Delhi, because of the indifferent attitude of higher authorities.”
The experts at the Bureau contend that the first major step towards its revival in Delhi could be decontrolling it from the authority of the police like all other forensic science laboratories and giving the finger prints experts their due.