Regional Chemical Examiner’s Lab at Ernakulam hit by shortage of manpower and instruments

In addition to being understaffed, the lab also suffers a shortage of modern equipment and maintenance.

Published - September 18, 2021 05:49 pm IST - KOCHI

The Excise Department continues to await the chemical analysis report of more than one kilogram of MDMA, which it seized from an apartment at Thrikkakara a month ago.

The report is integral to scientifically and chemically confirming the drug and determine its purity, while also critical for the prosecution to fight the case legally.

The Regional Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory, Kakkanad, has just started the chemical analysis of the samples after many of its officials either reported COVID-19 positive or had to undergo an extensive period of quarantine after family members of colleagues got infected, disrupting the functioning of the lab.

While the delay can be attributed to the pandemic in this instance, the laboratory’s work remains largely derailed owing to woeful shortage of manpower and instruments.

“We have only 16 technical assistants and scientific officers combined for hands-on work while we should ideally have around 30. Also, the workload has increased manifold over the years. While we received around 50 narcotics samples in a month in the past, now the number touches 350-400,” said laboratory sources.

It does not help either that the four districts – Ernakulam, Idukki, Palakkad, and Thrissur – over which the Ernakulam Regional Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory has jurisdiction account for a high crime rate. Most Abkari cases, including that of spurious liquor, are reported in Palakkad, while narcotics cases thrive in Idukki and Ernakulam.

Redeployment of officials from the Chief Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory at Thiruvananthapuram, which has a surplus workforce, is a possible solution, sources said.

The absence of enough modern equipment and their timely maintenance also disrupts the functioning of the lab. For instance, the regional lab at Ernakulam has just one instrument for conducting Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry, which is critical in the chemical analysis of drugs like MDMA and LSD.

“There is no standby instrument and the sole one available was imported nearly a decade back. Neither the spares nor the service engineers for its maintenance are available locally. This means that it will takes months before the instrument is revived,” sources said.

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