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History and Development of Forensic Science in India

The application of science and technology to the detection and investigation of crime and administration of justice is not new to India. Although our ancestors did not know forensic science in its present form, scientific methods in one way or the other seem to have been followed in the investigation of crime. Its detailed reference is found in Kautilya's Arthashastra, which was written about 2300 years ago. Indians studied various patterns of the papillary lines, thousands of years ago.

It is presumed that they knew about the persistency and individuality of fingerprints, which they used as signatures. Even Mr. KM Kata, a frequent contributor to Nature, stated that the Chinese records proved the use of fingerprints in an ancient kingdom of southern India.

The Indians knew for long that the handprints, known as the Tarija, were inimitable (unique). The use of fingerprints as signatures by illiterate people in India, introduced centuries ago, was considered by some people as ceremonial only, till it was scientifically proved that identification from fingerprints was infallible (Flawless, Perfect).

Chemical Examiner's Laboratories

During the nineteenth century, when the cases of death due to poisoning posed a problem to the law enforcement agencies, a need was felt for isolating, detecting and estimating various poisons absorbed in the human system. The first Chemical Examiner's Laboratory was, therefore, set up for this purpose at the then Madras Presidency, under the Department of Health, during 1849.

Later, similar laboratories were set up at Calcutta (1853), followed by one each at Agra (1864) and Bombay (1870). These laboratories were equipped to handle toxicological analysis of internal organs, biological analysis of stains of blood, semen, etc. and chemical analysis of food, drugs, and various excisable materials to provide scientific support to the criminal justice delivery system within their limited means. These laboratories also provided analytical facilities to the neighbouring States and Union Territories.

Anthropometric Bureau

While some progress was made in the identification of poisons, the identification of people, specifically criminals, was still being done in a rather haphazard manner. Policemen would try to memorize convict's face so that they could recognize him if he got involved in another crime later. With the introduction of Photography, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) maintained records of every known criminal including a detailed description of his appearance.

With the invention of Bertillon's anthropometric system in 1878, India, along with the other countries of the world, adapted Bertillon's system of personnel identification and thus an Anthropometric Bureau, for maintaining anthropornetric records of criminals, was established in 1892 at Calcutta.

Finger Print Bureau

William Herschel, the Collector of the District of Hooghly (Bengal) found that markings on the fingertips of a person never changed during his lifetime. Herschel applied his knowledge and skill in devising a system of registration of finger or thumb impressions of native contractors to safeguard the interests of the Government against the refutation of contracts by them. Thereafter, he extended his registration procedure to prison regulations for identifying convicted criminals.

In 1877, Herschel sought the consent of his superior officers in putting his ideas into practice, but did not succeed. In 1891, Edward Richard Henry's appointment, the Inspector General of Police in Bengal, introduced the thumb impressions in the record slips, containing anthropometric data, to avoid wrong identification. Long before 1897, he introduced maintenance of duplicate criminal records with impressions of 10 fingers separately.

Department of explosives

When the use of explosives for subversive activities became common, it was found necessary to detect the causes of explosion, either accidental or intentional. The foundation of the Department of Explosives was laid when the first chief inspector of explosives was appointed in the year 1898, with his headquarters at Nagpur. Later, five regional offices at Calcutta, Bombay, Agra, Madras and Gwalior, and three sub-offices were opened.

They developed competence to provide scientific clues in respect of explosives as well as the possible causes of explosions. Their expertise came handy in police investigations in the crimes related to explosions and for evolving various provisions under the Explosives & Petroleum Act.

Government examiner of questioned document, Shimla
The British Government of Bengal felt the necessity of identifying the handwritings on the secret documents connected with the Indian independence movement and, therefore, created the post of Government Handwriting Expert of Bengal. Mr. CR Hardless, was appointed to this post in 1904.

This set-up was shifted to Shimla in the year 1906 and was placed under the control of the Director, CID. A post of Handwriting Expert for the Government of India was created and Mr. CR Hardless was appointed to this post. He was replaced by Mr. F Brewester, a police officer from the West Bengal CID, and was designated as the Government Examiner of Questioned Documents (GEQD).

At first, the work of this office was mainly confined to the identification of writings on secret documents. Later, as the application of this branch of science was felt in many other cases, the services of this office were thrown open to criminal as well as civil court cases. During the World War II, this organization took up the additional work of secret censorship, including the detection of invisible writings and training of military personnel in this field of science.

Footprint section of criminal investigation department
During the year 1915, a Footprint Section was established under the CID, Government of Bengal, which helped the police authorities to identify criminals through the examination of footprints collected from the scene of crime.

Ballistics Laboratory

In 1930, an Arms Expert was appointed and a small ballistic laboratory was set up under the Calcutta Police to deal with the examination of firearms. As the threat of firearms grew, other State CIDs also established small ballistics laboratories to help them in the criminal investigation.

State Forensic Science laboratory, Calcutta
The first state forensic science laboratory in India was established in the year 1952 at Calcutta. This laboratory became fully operational in the year 1953. The Medico-legal Section of the Chemical Examiner's Laboratory was also transferred to this laboratory. During the year 1955, a small unit of Physics was established in the West Bengal State Forensic Science Laboratory to deal with various physical examinations of exhibits encountered in crime investigation. During the year 1957, the Physics unit developed into a full-fledged Physics Section.

Central finger print Bureau

On the recommendations of the Royal Police Commission of 1902-03, the first Central Finger Print Bureau (CFPB) in India was established in 1905 at Shimla. The CFPB started functioning from 1955 in Delhi under the administrative control of Intelligence Bureau (IB). The major role envisaged for CFPB was to coordinate the activities of State in tracing/locating inter-state criminals.

Indian Academy of Forensic Science

The Indian Academy of Forensic Sciences (IAFS) was established in the year 1960. This academy started a biennial scientific journal, which served as a forum for the exchange of ideas in forensic science with the other international bodies. The role of the Academy was also to hold annual scientific meetings/seminars or assist in holding seminars in forensic science. In fact, it was at the instance of this Academy that the Government of India established the Neutron Activation Analysis Unit to cater for the forensic needs in the country.

Institute of Criminology & Forensic Science at New Delhi
After a series of debates at the Government level, it was decided that initially the Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science should be established only for training the in-service personnel and for conducting research in the field of forensic science. It was felt that unless the State governments and the consumer organizations agreed to participate in the scheme, it would not be wise to start courses for granting postgraduate degrees.

However, the ultimate objective of the Institute was to develop into a full-fledged academic institution affiliated to a university. With the above aim in view, the Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science (ICFS) was established in Delhi during 1971 with the limited objectives of imparting training to the in-service personnel and conducting research in Criminology and Forensic Science.

It was also envisaged that the Institute should have two distinct faculties viz. the Faculty of Criminology and the Faculty of Forensic Science and both should have a number of eminent teachers and researchers with adequate background and field experience.

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