Towards a genetic panopticon
Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology
Prelims level: DNA
Mains level: Awareness in biotechnology
- Parliament today serves less as a locus for debate and discussion
and more as one for din and discord.
- But the pandemonium that appears to be the permanent state of
affairs in both Houses scarcely seems to stop the government from passing
laws, as we’ve seen this winter session.
- The government’s disdain for dissent, though, makes the potential
introduction of the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill,
2018, for consideration by the Rajya Sabha an especially invidious
Problems with the draft Bill
- The draft statute, approved by the Union Cabinet in July, not only
disregards the serious ethical dilemmas that are attendant to the creation
of a national DNA database, but also, contrary to established wisdom.
- The virtually treats DNA as infallible, and as a solution to the
many problems that ail the criminal justice system.
- What’s more, any infringement of civil liberties, caused by an
almost indiscriminate collection of DNA, is seen as a legitimate trade-off
made in the interests of ensuring superior justice delivery.
- The Bill fatally ignores is that the disproportionality of the DNA
bank that it seeks to create, and the invasiveness of its purport and reach,
imposes a Faustian bargain on the citizen.
- The genes encoded
- The genes encoded in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which can be
collected from blood, hair, skin cells and other such bodily substances,
have undoubtedly proven to be an important tool in forensic science.
- Much like fingerprints, a person’s DNA profile is unique (except
in the case of identical twins) and can, therefore, help in establishing the
identity of, say, a suspect.
- The only a small amount of genetic material is needed to create
such a profile makes the form of evidence especially appealing to criminal
- Across the world, the use of DNA evidence has helped exonerate a
number of innocent people from wrongful conviction, and has also helped find
the guilty party in complex investigations.
- It is to that end that we no doubt need a law to help regulate the
manner and circumstances in which the state may be entitled to collect
biological material from a person.
- The requirement for such a law is only accentuated by an amendment
made to the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2005, which expressly authorises
investigating officers of a crime to collect a DNA sample from an accused
with the help of a medical practitioner.
- It aimed at regulating the use of DNA, has failed to provide a
constitutionally sustainable model.
- The draft law seeks to create a National DNA Data Bank, which will
be maintained on the basis of various different categories.
- This including a crime scene index, a suspects’ index and an
offenders’ index, with a view to “facilitating identification of persons”.
- This attempt at identification may relate, among other things, to
a criminal investigation, to a judicial proceeding of any kind, and even to
civil cases such as “parental disputes”, “issues relating to pedigree”, and
“issues relating to establishment of individual identity”.
- The proposed law, however, is not only decidedly vague on how it
intends to maintain this DNA Bank, but it also conflates its objectives by
allowing the collection of DNA evidence not only in aid of criminal
investigations but also to aid the determination of civil disputes.
- Therefore, there’s no end to the state’s power in coercing a
person to part with her DNA.
The use of DNA evidence
- In its present draft, however, the Bill woefully falls short of
meeting these tests.
- The idea behind maintaining a DNA database is to help match and
compare samples collected from a crime scene against a set of stored
- Thereby helping in the identification of a potential suspect in a
- India’s Bill, though, seeks to make the DNA Bank available for a
slew of unconnected purposes, including permitting its use in civil cases.
- Consider the consequences: a person wrongfully accused of a crime,
say, for speeding a vehicle over permissible limits, who might have been
compelled to give her genetic material may well see this evidence being used
against her in an altogether different proceeding of a purely civil nature.
- Given that in India, even illegally obtained evidence is
admissible in a court of law, so long as the relevance and genuineness of
such material can be established.
- The Bill’s failure to place sufficient checks on the use of DNA
evidence collected in breach of the law makes the process altogether more
- It’s been reported previously, for instance, that the Centre for
DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, whose director will occupy an ex officio
place in the DNA Regulatory Board.
- Thought it already seeks information on a person’s caste during
the collection of genetic material.
- One hardly needs to spell out the dangers inherent in gathering
- To enact the law in its present form, therefore, would only add a
new, menacing weapon to the state’s rapidly expanding surveillance
- We cannot allow the benefits of science and technology to be
privileged over the grave risks in allowing the government untrammelled
access to deeply personal and penetrating material.
Q.1) Which among the following is known as the power house of the cell,
has its own DNA and ribosomes?
(c) Golgi Body
(d) Endoplasmic Reticulum
Q.1) The DNA Bill will give the state untrammelled access to deeply personal and
penetrating material. Critically examine.