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Forensic Science Laboratories: Clamouring for Attention

The police officers investigating different cases face a number of problems due to delay in submission of reports from the forensic science laboratories. The inadequate number of forensic science laboratories and poor infrastructure and staff strength of the existing ones are responsible for delay in investigation, trial, and grant of bail to the accused persons and failure in dispensation of justice.

The absence of proper store room/malkhana to keep the viscera and other samples safely and inability to keep track of the pending FSL reports at the police stations adds further to the problem. A minuscule portion of the total budget allocated for police modernisation is spent on the infrastructural development of forensic science laboratories leading to huge number of cases pending for investigation and trial due to non-receipt of FSL reports.

Forensic evidence is trusted by all courts as it has led to major breakthroughs in a number of critical cases. The advantages of reorganizing, regulating and improving forensic science vis-a-vis other technologies are many as it effectively assists the law enforcement agencies in criminal investigation, enhances internal security, provides proactive assistance and helps criminal justice administration. It also reduces the risk of wrongful conviction/exoneration. However, even today the budget for this branch is a microscopic fraction of the total budget allocated for police modernization

The first state forensic science laboratory in India was established in Kolkata in the year 1952, which became fully operational in the year 1953.

After bifurcation from BPR&D on the recommendations of National Human Rights Commission and Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms, the Directorate of Forensic Science Services (DFSS) was created in the year 2002 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India vide Order No. 25011/41/2001-GPA.II/PM-II dt. 31.12.2002. DFSS is headed by the Director-cum-Chief Forensic Scientist.

It has six Central Forensic Science Laboratories located at Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pune, Guwahati and Bhopal under its control. The CFSL at Delhi is controlled by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).The DFSS is responsible for the coordination and quality control of forensic services in India.

These laboratories are entrusted with the responsibility of conducting forensic evaluation of samples related to sexual assault, criminal paternity and homicide and other crimes. Each of these forensic laboratories are equipped with different types of facilities and equipment, but all of them offer a range of services including DNA analysis, toxicology, ballistics, serology and document examination etc.

National and State Scenario

In India there are seven Central Forensic Science Laboratories (CFSLs) viz. Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Delhi, Guwahati, Bhopal and Pune. CFSL Hyderabad is proficient in evaluation of chemical samples, CFSL Kolkata in biological samples and CFSL Chandigarh in physical samples. Further, there are 32 State Forensic Science Laboratories (SFSLs), 80 (+10) Regional Forensic Science Laboratories (RFSLs) and 529 Mobile Forensic Units/ DMFUs located in different states and union territories of India.

In West Bengal, there are 01 FSL, 01 RFSL and 05 Mobile Forensic Units/DMFUs. The State FSL is in Kolkata in South Bengal and the RFSL is located at Jalpaiguri in North Bengal, both afflicted with shortage of space, manpower and equipment. West Bengal is a big state with more than nine crores of population. Hence, it is difficult to cope up with the pressure of submission of FSL reports in a large number of cases with the help of only one State Forensic Science Laboratory and one Regional Forensic Science Laboratory.

The abysmally inadequate number of forensic science laboratories creates a number of problems for the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. Hundreds of FSL reports are pending vis-a-vis both unnatural death cases and other important cases. The inadequate staff strength at the existing forensic science laboratories is another reason for delay in submission of FSL reports. Some FSLs in the country suffer from lack of space, outdated instruments and rat menace.

It is worth noting that no new central forensic science laboratory has been established in recent times after creation of the seven central forensic science laboratories decades ago. Though the population of the country has increased exponentially, the number of central forensic science laboratories almost remains the same. The number of state forensic science laboratories, regional forensic science laboratories and mobile forensic units has also not increased proportionately to the population of the country.

Annually hundreds of unnatural death cases are reported at different police stations across the country and in many cases particularly of poisoning and drowning the autopsy surgeon submits post mortem report without giving final opinion regarding the cause of death noting the same will be submitted on receipt of FSL report.

In some cases, the FSL reports are received and, in some cases, the same are not received or get misfiled. There is also no proper room at the police stations for keeping the viscera or exhibits in respect of the unnatural death cases leading to lot of mismanagement and loss of exhibits.

It is time to construct proper store room/malkhana for keeping all exhibits properly. Further, the present capacity of the forensic science laboratories is not enough to submit analysis reports in all cases owing to inadequate number of forensic science laboratories and acute shortage of manpower.

Problems faced by investigating officers:

If the investigating officers don't get FSL reports in time, they wouldn't be able to evaluate the evidence properly and submit charge sheet/final report timely thereby creating impediments in the proper dispensation of justice leading to poor conviction rate.

It is unfortunate that the courts have also not looked adequately into this aspect of the problem while blaming police officers for improper and perfunctory investigation of cases along with delay of investigation. Courts may pass order on the competent authorities for increasing the number of forensic science laboratories with adequate staff strength in the country.

Many a times investigating officers have to file report in final form without receiving the FSL report in order to avert pressure from their superior officers and other agencies for disposal of long pending cases saying that supplementary charge sheet/final report will be submitted after receipt of FSL report.

It is also true that proper record of pending FSL reports is normally not kept at the police stations and by the investigating officers. This leads to misfiling and loss of some of the FSL reports ultimately leading to damaging the case.

It is sometimes seen that FSL report has not been received even when the case has come up for trial and the trial court instead of summoning the concerned forensic officer summons the investigating officer for submission of charge sheet/final report without receiving FSL report and without including the same in case diary. Though pressure is sometimes exerted on the officers of forensic science laboratories for timely submission of FSL reports, the investigating officers are mainly targeted for delay in investigation.

If charge sheet in a murder case is submitted without taking final opinion from the autopsy surgeon on the cause of death, the case will lose its value. Normally autopsy surgeons keep their final opinion regarding the cause of death in some unnatural death cases pending till receipt of the FSL reports. By the time the FSL report is received, the investigating officer is transferred out of the police station where he was posted and joins a new unit and sometimes remains unaware of the receipt of FSL report at the police station where he was previously posted.

So, he fails to submit supplementary charge sheet or final report to the court after taking final opinion of the autopsy surgeon regarding the cause of death on receipt of the FSL report. After receiving FSL reports some officers in charge of police stations inform the concerned investigating officers to submit supplementary charge sheet/final report while others don't inform them at all and the FSL reports get lost in the maze of files and registers at the police stations.

When the case comes up for trial after a long period of time has elapsed since submission of charge sheet/final report, the forensic science laboratory report and the supplementary report in final form are found missing from the case record and the trying judge is compelled to call the investigating officer directing him to produce the FSL report and the supplementary charge sheet/final report. So, it is necessary to evolve a system to keep track on the pending FSL reports.

In many cases, especially in the cases of suspicious death, the viscera undergo degenerative changes and it becomes difficult to present it in the court and keep at the store room/malkhana of the police station due to the obnoxious smell coming out of them due to absence of proper store room/malkhana at the police stations.

The problems faced in respect of forensic science laboratories in the country may be categorized as follows:
  • The number of forensic science laboratories are inadequate to deal with the existing number of cases pending for FSL reports.
  • The staff strength of FSLs is not in proportion to the number of samples received for evaluation.
  • Due to inadequate space and infrastructure in the existing FSLs, samples are kept in unhygienic condition and become putrefied and useless by the time they are taken up for examination and evaluation leading to failure in giving expert opinion.
  • The accused has to suffer due to pending FSL report as the courts don't grant bail in the absence of such report.
  • The trial is delayed due to late filing of FSL report.
  • There are also instances of the FSLs giving wrong or incorrect opinion on forensic material.
  • There is delay in investigation of the case due to late receipt of FSL report.
  • There is lack of co-ordination between forensic science officers and police officers in handling of samples and receipt and dispatch of FSL reports.
  • The casual approach in collecting and depositing exhibits is another drawback.
  • FSLs are overburdened and short of staff.
  • Sometimes the evidence doesn't even reach the FSL on time, or doesn't get tested on time leading to destruction of the proof of crime and subsequently the failure of justice.
  • On an average FSL report takes at least six months to compile, but there are exceptions when reports have been released early because of constant prodding by courts.
  • Delay in submitting forensic reports by laboratories or "incorrect opinion" often hampers a case and can even lead to acquittal.
The problems faced vis-a-vis forensic science laboratories may be tackled by taking the following measures:
  • To address these problems, experts suggest filling up vacancies, setting up of more forensic science laboratories and fixing a deadline for the laboratories to submit their reports.
  • Police forces must be equipped with specialists in collecting forensic evidence from the crime scene, so that evidence is not contaminated by blundering amateurs. Regular training of investigating officers is also required in this regard.
  • Co-ordination may be enhanced between police and forensic officers for the proper and timely receipt and dispatch of samples and reports.
  • Trained police officers may be deployed for seizing, packing and dispatching samples so that the samples don't get contaminated and the chain of custody is not broken.
  • Proper store room/malkhana for keeping all exhibits should be constructed at all police stations.
  • We need many more forensic laboratories where the tests can be done.
  • Adequate funds are required to be sanctioned by the central and state governments to set up at least one state of the art forensic science laboratory with adequate number of experts in each police zone in the country to ease up the immense burden over the existing forensic science laboratories and to help the investigating officers in proper and timely investigation of cases in the interest of the criminal justice system.
These steps will cost money, but the cause of speedy justice will be served better by investing in the infrastructural development of forensic science laboratories.

  1. Forensic delay is defeat of justice: Experts, Sana Shakil / TNN / Updated: Nov 7, 2015, 03:59 IST,
  2. Poor infra, staff shortage at forensic labs leading to huge backlog of court cases, the pioneer, Monday, 05 March 2018 | Rajesh Kumar | New Delhi,
  3. A Study on Forensic Science Laboratory Set up, Forensic Science Public Desk, India, May 19, 2020,
  4. Website of Directorate of Forensic Science Services, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India

Written By: Md. Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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