The Centre has withdrawn the DNA Bill

The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019, was recently withdrawn from the Lok Sabha by the Union government.

Highlights of the 2019 DNA Bill

  • The Bill, initially proposed in 2003, seeks to provide a regulatory framework for obtaining, keeping, and testing individual DNA samples, primarily for criminal investigations and verifying identity.
  • The Bill has evolved over time and was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2019.
  • Concerns were raised by the committee concerning potential misuse based on religion, caste, or political beliefs.

Key Features

  • The Bill’s goal was to provide a regulated framework for the collection, processing, and storage of DNA samples, primarily for criminal investigations and proving a person’s identification.
  • Existing Applications of DNA Technology: DNA testing is already used in criminal investigations, establishing parentage, and locating missing people.
  • Proposed Institutional Structures: The Bill proposed establishing a DNA regulatory board and a DNA data bank at the national level, with the possibility of state-level regional centres.
  • The DNA Regulatory Board’s role would be to develop norms and procedures for DNA collection, testing, and storage.
  • DNA Data Bank: The data bank would house all DNA samples gathered in accordance with the rules.
  • Restricted Testing: Only laboratories authorised by the regulatory body would be permitted to test DNA samples.
  • Managing of DNA Samples: The Bill outlined the conditions under which persons could be asked to submit DNA samples, the reasons for such requests, and the precise protocols for managing, storing, and accessing these samples.

Controversies and Objections against the Bill:

  • Reliability of DNA Technology: Critics raised concerns about the foolproof nature of DNA technology and its potential for error.
  • The key point of contention was the risk of misusing DNA information. Detractors warned that the collecting and storage of intrusive DNA data will lead to misuse and violations of individual privacy.
  • Concerns about privacy: DNA information discloses not only a person’s identify but also physical and biological characteristics such as eye, hair, or skin colour, illness susceptibility, and possibly medical history. Some critics contended that storing such personal information could jeopardise privacy rights.

Concerns of the Standing Committee

  • Technical and Sensitive Characteristics: According to the Standing Committee’s report, the Bill was technical, difficult, and sensitive.
  • Addressing Concerns: The report acknowledged and addressed some members’ concerns regarding the potential misuse of DNA technology based on criteria such as religion, caste, or political views.

International precedents:

  • The government contended that approximately 60 countries have implemented comparable legislation, demonstrating the need for such legislation in India.
  • Limited Information Storage: The government claimed that the indices would only save a limited amount of numbers, only 17 out of the billions that DNA samples potentially reveal. This information would serve as a unique identification and would not divulge any personal information.

@the end

  • The withdrawal of the Bill represents a delay in the government’s efforts to provide a legislative framework for the use of DNA technology.
  • The conflicts and concerns voiced emphasise the importance of a balanced approach.
  • While exploiting the potential benefits of DNA technology for criminal investigations and other purposes, the Centre must address concerns about misuse and privacy.
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