Neglect may wipe out oldest finger print bureau

The Finger Print Bureau is situated in this Kolkata building.  

On March 14, 2015 a group of men climbed over the boundary wall of a convent school in Ranaghat in West Bengal’s Nadia district, overpowered the security guard, and ransacked an almirah containing valuables. The miscreants then raped one of the resident nuns — she was 72-years-old — and vanished into the night. Days after the horrific incident, there were no clues on who the perpetrators were. All the investigators had to go by was grainy CCTV footage and the probe was going nowhere.

The State government wanted the CBI to take over but this was refused. Help came from the Finger Print Bureau, which was able to collect 11 prints from the almirah using graphite powder. The first arrest came two weeks later, once the finger prints helped ascertain the identity of the accused.

Many breakthroughs

Fingerprints have led to many such breakthroughs. An expert described how a couple of years ago a murder was solved with only one fingerprint. One night hired miscreants broke into the house of an elderly woman who lived alone in Birbhum's Bolpur. None of the neighbours or people in the locality had seen anybody going in or out of the house. The police could find no evidence, there were no suspects.

The Finger Print Bureau was called in and they found that the house had been wiped almost clean of any fingerprint traces. Almost clean, for they found one single fingerprint on the door that the criminals had forgotten to remove as they left. Additionally, it was found that the victim had lent a big sum of money to a local businessman. The fingerprint did not match his, but the police were able to find similar samples from his residence, which led to the case being solved and the hired killers were eventually arrested in Delhi.

Champion of the method

There is a lot more that West Bengal’s finger print bureau can claim credit for. It was set up in 1897 by Edward Richard Henry, who served as the Inspector General of the Bengal Province and later went on to head the Metropolitan Police in London. Henry championed the fingerprinting technique to identify criminals.

Kolkata’s Finger Print Bureau is considered one of the oldest in the world. Sir Henry, who is also credited with having introduced police dogs and type writers at New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police, first published his classic "Classification and Use of Finger Prints" in 1900.

There is an apocryphal story: Sir Henry described his system of classification of finger prints to the British Association when it met at Dover in 1899.

Sir Henry is said to have illustrated his talk with the case of Charan, who had been charged with murder and theft in 1898. A calendar bearing "two faint brown smudges" was found at the scene. These were later identified as finger impressions of the accused, Charan, though he claimed only to be a witness to the crime.


But here is the twist: While the finger print bureau gets scant attention from the government, West Bengal is ranked 17th in terms of cognizable crimes per one lakh population , recording more crime than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar among 29 States and seven union territories as per latest NCRB report.

To cope with this crime rate, the Bureau, crammed into mere 400 sq feet in Bhawani Bhavan, the headquarters of the West Bengal CID with only eight staff, is nearly moribund. A retired former director of the Bureau functions as Officer on Special Duty (OSD), leading the Bureau assisted by a senior finger print expert. Five sub inspectors and one inspector, trained to do the work of experts, complete the list. The sanctioned strength? According to experts it is 41 — 12 senior finger print experts, 28 junior finger print experts, and one director.

As per the latest report of the Finger Print in India for 2015, released a few days ago, West Bengal was able to record only 238 finger prints from across the State while Uttar Pradesh 3972, Tamil Nadu 3248, Rajasthan 5,881 and Maharashtra over 11, 095 finger print slips. The State data base has 42,639 ten-digit fingerprint slips of convicted persons.

A senior IPS officer says that while technologies have advanced and the detection and identification of body fluids at a crime scene have opened new options the west, in India finger print technology continues to play an important role. “We do not have laboratories of the West, so have to depend on finger prints,” he said.