PESHAWAR: Police have been sending samples for a DNA test to Punjab Forensic Science Agency despite the presence of a function of a laboratory at Khyber Medical College, Peshawar, according to sources.
They said that the first-ever DNA laboratory was notified for home and tribal affairs department in May 2017 but it started operations in February 2018 due to lack of kits, which were made available when pressure for a DNA lab was strongly felt following rape and murder of a four-year-old girl in Mardan.
Sources said that so far, 140 DNA tests were conducted in cases referred to the laboratory by police or courts but cases were also being dispatched to Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) Lahore that brought into disrepute the facility located at the forensic medicine and toxicology department, KMC.
They said that the latest DNA test conducted at KMC was of a boy assaulted in Mansehra that established the occurrence of crime on December 23. They said that all the DNA tests carried out so far were FIR-based and were conducted free of cost. “Police have to wait for months for results of DNA tests from Lahore,” they said.
The PFSA, Lahore receives a fee of Rs500 for analyzing one sample. Conducting doing a single DNA test requires at least five samples to finalize the report. The KMC’s laboratory analyzed about 600 samples so far, without charging police or the aggrieved people.
A senior police officer told Dawn that the KMC laboratory was the best but the government should ensure an uninterrupted supply of kits to it for getting quick results of the tests.
The PFSA has 55 analysts and 30 more are being hired while the KMC laboratory, established at a cost Rs45 million, has been incomplete inertia since going operational.
“For a DNA test of one hair, we pay Rs15,000 to Rs20,000 to PFSA, which faces huge workload as it receives samples from the whole country,” said the official. He added that the department was capable of giving a state service but required strengthening.
The alleged rape before murdering of a seven-year-old girl in Nowshera is the latest example where police belittle the KMC’s laboratory. Her postmortem was conducted at KMC but specimens for DNA were dispatched to Lahore by police.
The only issue facing KMC’s laboratory is a shortage of staff.
It has been operating with one molecular biologist, who has worked in National Forensic Science Agency Islamabad for eight years, but in case of workload, the department has requested the government for one post of assistant professor, five DNA analysts, three technicians, and two lab assistants to expedite work.
The request made in March 2018 is yet to get any response. The problem of getting kits has also been brought into the notice of the health department but no avail.
Academically, the forensic science and toxicology department is supposed to carry out research as it is the only recognized center by the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan for postgraduate training but it has been notified by the government to do DNA locally as the police don’t have their own facility.
The department with the help of 11 medico-legal officers has conducted 1,000 postmortems, 350 tests in cases involving sexual assaults, 700 age determination and as many cases of poisoning to assist police and courts in crime detection in 2019.
“However, despite a laboratory notified by the government, sending samples outside the province amounts to belittling it,” said sources.