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DNA Technology Bill listed for consideration and passing in upcoming Lok Sabha session

The bill was first introduced in Parliament two years ago and until recently, it was under review by a standing committee whose report flagged concerns of possible misuse of DNA information.

The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 has been listed for ‘consideration and passing’ in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Lok Sabha, according to a bulletin uploaded on the Lok Sabha website yesterday.

The bill which was first introduced in Parliament in July 2019, seeks to regulate the use of DNA technology to establish the identity of persons in relation to criminal matters and civil matters. It was subsequently referred to the Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh-headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. The committee tabled its report on the bill in the Lok Sabha on February 3, 2021.

Why it matters? In its report, the Standing Committee flagged some concerns around the possibility of misuse of DNA technology; however, it also said that such legislation is needed since DNA technology is already in use in the country. These fears are not “entirely unfounded”, and it does not “negate the need” for such a law especially when DNA technology is already in use, the Committee’s report said. “In fact, its (DNA technology) use in recent months has exposed a false encounter in which innocents were killed contradicting initial claims made that they were militants,” the Committee added.

What the DNA Technology Bill entails

The bill proposes the following:

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  • Creation of a National DNA Data Bank and a Regional DNA Data Bank
  • Constitution of a DNA Regulatory Board
  • Accreditation to labs that analyse DNA samples
  • Provide training related to DNA handling
  • Require consent from individuals to collect DNA samples from them

It also lays out guidelines for the collection and governance of DNA-related data in various criminal and civil matters such as parentage disputes, emigration or immigration, and transplantation of human organs.

Recommendations of the Standing Committee

The Standing Committee, which consulted with 10 non-official and 5 official expert witnesses, had raised its concerns on a number of provisions of the bill. Some of these are-

  • The possible misuse of DNA information

In order to prevent misuse, as in by targeting certain sections, many members of the Committee believed that the application of the bill must be limited to victims, offenders, missing persons, and unknown deceased, and leave out undertrials and suspects.

  • On the use of multiple indices for stored DNA information

What the bill says- The bill warrants the storage of DNA samples under various indices such as – A missing person’s index contains DNA profiles of samples from unidentified human bodies or the family of the missing person.

What the committee report says – In the report, multiple members express that they don’t believe multiple indices are required for crime-solving.

  • Definition of ‘Offender’

What the bill says- The bill will warrant the creation of an ‘Offender’s Indice’ which will create a list of DNA sample entries of offenders. However, it doesn’t define the term ‘offender’.

What the committee report says – The committee says Offenders should be defined and the line “any person convicted of an offence and punished with imprisonment of 7 years or more” should be included.

  • The composition of the DNA Regulatory Board

What the bill says- The bill recommends that the board include the director-general of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or their nominee, an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary from the Law Ministry, a Joint Secretary level officer from the Ministry of Science and Technology, and a nominated expert in the biological sciences as members. It also recommends appointing a secretary to the Department of Biotechnology as the board’s chairman.

What the committee report says- Against this, the committee recommended-
1) Removal of the NIA director as a member
2) Removal and replacement of the Joint Secretary in Law Ministry as a member with a legal expert to be nominated by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India
3) Removal of the Joint Secretary level officer from Ministry of Science and Technology
4) Removal and replacement of the expert in biological sciences with an expert from information sciences (no years of experience listed) to be nominated by the government

  • Provision for National DNA Data Bank

What the bill says- The Central Government shall establish a National DNA Data Bank and a number of Regional DNA Data Banks for every State, or two or more States, as necessary.

What the committee report says – The committee recommended that only a National DNA data bank be set up as opposed to provisions for regional DNA data banks.

  • Remove central government power to amend the Schedule

What the bill says- The bill empowers the central government to amend the Schedule “if it is of the opinion that it is expedient to do so”.

What the committee report says -The Committee recommended removing this provision and said that the Schedule should be amended only after parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

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The upcoming monsoon session of the Parliament is scheduled to start from July 19. As of yet, other anticipated bills like the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (PDP) and the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 have not been mentioned in its list of business. However, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla has reportedly said yesterday that the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the PDP Bill, 2019 would not be given any time extensions to submit its report.

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Written By

I cover health and education technology for MediaNama. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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