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Centre denies plans to build DNA database, but experts fault Bill

The Union government has denied plans to develop a DNA database of citizens, similar to the biometric database of Aadhaar, as feared by many when the Human DNA Profiling Bill was introduced in the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Y.S. Chowdary said the government did not propose to establish a DNA databank of castes, communities and groups to profile, store and match their DNA data.

Highly placed sources in the Science and Technology Ministry, however, told The Hindu that the draft had not been changed drastically from the one put out in January.

For a few months now, the revised draft has been missing from the public domain. “Some minor corrections alone have been made to an earlier draft,” a senior official said. “The DNA data that is proposed to be collected in the Bill will be restricted to criminal cases and civil disputes, and for identifying missing individuals in the event of a natural disaster.”

Lalji Singh, recognised as the father of DNA fingerprinting technology in India, said the Bill was an improvised version of the one he framed several years ago. However, the government did not consult him while drafting the Bill. He was disappointed that a Board proposed in the Bill would have complete control over DNA profiling, and without its permission, no laboratory could be started. The databases would be centralised.

“What is the usefulness of creating a general DNA database? In criminal justice cases, one only does DNA fingerprinting case by case. Spending thousands of crores of public money on creating a general database may not be worth it,” he said. “The proper thing to do would be to bring DNA fingerprinting within the ambit of the Evidence Act, so that DNA-based evidence is admissible in a court. But that is not what the government is proposing right now.”

Pushpa M. Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, said another major omission in the current draft was that the existing provision for accreditation of laboratories for DNA profiling, under the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories, had been overlooked.

Another concern has been the lack of trained staff to ensure quality control of DNA sample collection. Considering that it is the local police who mostly collect samples for evidence, including body fluids or hair, unless there are trained personnel to do the work, the biological samples could get contaminated or the mode of collection may violate individual rights, Mr. Singh said.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:55:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-denies-plans-to-build-dna-database-but-experts-fault-bill/article7493062.ece

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