Controversy erupts over DNA Profiling Bill ahead of introduction
The scope of the proposed Human DNA Profiling bill is only limited to the identification of an individual as the samples collected are inadequate for a full genome analysis containing personal information, claim scientists who drafted the bill.
The bill, listed for introduction in the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament, triggered a debate with rights activists and NGOs claiming the legislation was intrusive and contained several controversial provisions without any safeguards. Geneticists who nurtured the legislation for the last 12 years, differ. According to them, genetic data would be obtained only from 17 positions in the human DNA—out of 3 million positions—to determine the “signature profile” of an individual. A tiny amount of DNA (from a single hair) is needed is what they say.
“The information from 17 DNA positions uniquely identifies an individual, the person’s gender and relationship with biological relatives, but otherwise has no correlation with age, colour, race, behavioural or morphological features, and health and disease predilections,” said J Gowrishankar, director, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostic (CDFD), Hyderabad.
Since each parent contributes 50 per cent of his/her DNA to a child, the signature profile of an individual is used to determine the parentage or other kinships.
The DNA profiling is not only useful in crime investigation, providing the investigators with leads, but also helps in civil disputes and identification of unknown bodies.“Going by the NCRB data, there are 40,000 unidentified bodies in India each year, which means 4 lakh unidentified bodies in the last 10 years. Having a centralised DNA data bank would be useful for them,” CDFD scientist Madhusudan Reddy Nandineni told Deccan Herald.
‘Intimate sampling’ row
On the “intimate sampling” controversy, Reddy said those provisions already exist in the Section 53 of the Criminal Procedure Code, as amended in 2005. The DNA profiling legislation reiterated those provisions under which only a doctor can collect the samples.
The bill seeks to create a regulatory body–DNA Profiling Board–to oversee all DNA profile-related activities and run the DNA data banks, which will store the samples. Every bank would store the samples under several indices: crime scene index; suspect index; offender’s index; missing person’s index; unknown deceased person’s index and volunteer’s index.Three technical panels have overseen the bill in the last 10 years and a final draft was prepared in January this year.
While the department of biotechnology, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, said the activist’s concerns on the bill were adequately addressed, an US-based NGO called the Council for Responsible Genetics claimed absence of many safeguards in the bill.