Extracting DNA without consent or privacy protection; Govt withdraws bill, saves face
Four years after DNA profiling bill was passed by Lok Sabha and hailed as “landmark decision” to use the gene-mapping technology on humans, Modi government quietly withdrew the bill this Monsoon Session.
The Government claimed no additional laws were required on DNA information use as there were enough provisions in the existing Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act to cover the hi-tech procedures recommended in the new Bill. The stated reason for controlling the application of DNA technology was to establish identity of missing persons, victims, offenders, undertrials and unknown deceased persons. In other words, no point making new laws when we already have one
Hyperlegislation, was it? Not really. The DNA bill was hanging fire ever since it was introduced in 2003. And each successive government wanted to pass it in toto as it gave overriding powers to bypass courts and rights bodies. This time, the Bill was withdrawn after an outcry of Opposition over some of its “draconian” clauses.
The Bill did not have any provision for consent of Individual while storing his DNA information, consent was not required in cases of heinous crimes, and it was open to the possibility of manipulating, marginlising a set of people of certain caste and creed. In short it made the government a “surveillance state.”
How unsurprising is that none of the government wanted these provisions to be removed. Or, put in place a data protection law, first, that safegaurds the fundamental right to life and privacy of individuals.
Objections to the Bill were being heard by the Standing Committee on Science & Technology headed by Jairam Ramesh of Congress, who spilled the beans.
“Yesterday the Modi government quietly withdrew the The DNA Technology(Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019. The Bill had been examined in detail by the S&T Standing Committee which had suggested a number of important amendments to ensure that the provisions in the Bill were not misused or abused. A few members had submitted notes of dissent as well. The Committee’s report was submitted on Feb 3, 2021,” Ramesh stated on his Twitter handle.
“Now the Modi government says most of the provisions of the Bill have already been made part of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022 and hence the DNA Bill is not required. Actually, the real reason is that the Modi government did NOT want the elaborate safeguards recommended by the Standing Committee and decided to just ignore it after having pressed for early submission of its report. The fears of the critics of the govt’s DNA Bill now stand fully justified,” Ramesh added.
What Government has to say?
‘The Lok Sabha today [24 July 2023] passed the withdrawal of “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill – 2019”. This Bill was formulated by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, recognizing the need for the regulation of the use and application of DNA technology.
Since most of the Clauses of the “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill” have broadly been covered in “The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022” which was brought by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the decision has been taken by the Government to withdraw “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019”.
The primary intended purpose of “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill – 2019” was for use and application of DNA technology for the purpose of establishing identity of certain categories i.e. missing persons, victims, offenders, under trials and unknown deceased persons to strengthen the justice delivery system of the country.
Pertinent to mention that DNA testing is now universally accepted as the gold standard of forensic investigation. Further, the Government has enacted “The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022” in April 2022 to authorise for taking measurements of convicts and other persons for the purposes of identification and investigation in criminal matters and to preserve records.
Since most of the Clauses of the “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill” have broadly been covered in “The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022”, the decision has been taken by the Government to withdraw “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019”. The Criminal Procedure Act (Identification) 2022 comes in the place of the repealed Identification of Prisoners Act 1920,’ Modi government stated.