TV serials may have glamourised them. But working in Mumbai's forensic science
laboratory is tough and requires immense dedication.
A state-of-the-art laboratory with hi-tech equipment and scientists clad in white coats meticulously working to nail that perp: This is the popular perception of a forensic laboratory, thanks to TV serials like CSI, and our very own CID and Special Squad.
And while programmes such as these have always glamourised the goings-on in a forensic lab, reality is that it calls for a serious amount of hard work and patience.
Mumbai has its own hi-tech lab; the Directorate of Forensic Science Laboratories (DFSL) in Santacruz, is perhaps the largest of its kind, and has just completed 50 years. But civilians aren't allowed to enter its hallowed grounds.
Files of every crime that occurs in Mumbai that needs to be investigated is sent to this FSL, and many times, crimes occurring in other places in Maharashtra that need higher investigation also make their way to the laboratory. This institute that started in 1958 has a number of achievements to its credit. It can boast solving many important cases including famous ones like the Sahar Airport rape, the Allister Periera hit-and-run and the Telgi stamp scam.
The director of the forensic science laboratory, Dr Rukmani Krishnamurthy, believes that Mumbaikars should know more about the working of cops and investigations. She says, "Television serials do give people an idea, but they do not always paint an accurate picture. Sometimes, the serials show scientists using three test tubes and finding a DNA match, which is completely ridiculous. Many television directors have approached me for help, but I tell them that it is not my job." She also feels that the glamour is exaggerated, and that serials are not really a reflection of reality. "Serials are concepts, not the truth," she adds.
The actual functioning of the forensic laboratory is a lot more complicated, and the DFSL in Mumbai, she says, is well-equipped with a large number of departments. For instance, the Toxicology division is where stomach wash, vomit, and blood in homicide and suicide cases are tested. The Serology division does detection, species typing, blood grouping, etc in cases of murder, assault, and rape. The Ballistics division examines the arms and ammunition, while the Physics division examines trace evidence.
In addition, many new techniques like narco analysis, cyber forensics, tape and video authentication and speaker identification were introduced in 2006.
Dr Madhukar Malve, who is in charge of the Chemistry and Narcotics division at the DFSL, says, "Our laboratory is the biggest and the best in India. We are in a position to analyse any type of crime sample."
Mumbai's DFSL is the main lab in Maharashtra; other regional ones are located in Nagpur, Pune, Aurangabad and Nashik. Every kind of investigation, from murders and rapes, to bomb blasts and theft, are done here.
Deven Bharti, the additional commissioner of police, Crime Branch, says, "The Mumbai DFSL is one of the best in the country, and it is the most ultramodern lab we have. Any kind of question or forensic query is always answered by them."
Another important feature is the presence of mobile forensic laboratories. These mobile labs gather evidence from the crime scene directly, and conduct the investigation at the scene or area of the crime. This has proved to be quite a boon for the city's investigating officers.
There are also training programmes for investigating police officers on a regular basis, so as to increase their knowledge about forensics and investigation. "All our policemen are trained at the Maharashtra Police Academy (MPA). Training helps them to know in detail what to collect, and how to collect evidence at the crime scene. We also have a forensic awareness center at the MPA where live models of bombs are displayed so as to give the police a clear idea," says Dr Krishnamurthy.
The work of a forensic expert is tough, but at the same time it is also a thrilling experience. Shrikant Lade, who has been working in the DNA division for the last 18 years, says, "The experience has been very exciting. We keep getting different kinds of cases and the thrill is new each time. And though not always accurate, the media and television serials have definitely been instrumental in creating awareness among people," says Lade.
And while they may be a far cry from what we see on TV, they are the backbone of the city's police force.
Types of forensic science
Digital forensics is the application of proven scientific methods and techniques in order to recover data from electronic/digital media. DF specialists work in the field as well as in the lab.
Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology in a legal setting, usually for the recovery and identification of skeletonised human remains.
Forensic archaeology is the application of a combination of archaeological techniques and forensic science, typically in law enforcement.
Forensic DNA analysis takes advantage of the uniqueness of an individual's DNA to answer forensic questions such as determining paternity/maternity or placing a suspect at a crime scene.
Forensic entomology deals with the examination of insects in, on, and around human remains to assist in determination of time or location of death. It is also possible to determine if the body was moved after death.
Forensic geology deals with trace evidence in the form of soils, minerals and petroleums.
Forensic meteorology is a site specific analysis of past weather conditions for a point of loss.
Forensic odontology is the study of the uniqueness of dentition better known as the study of teeth.
Forensic pathology is a field in which the principles of medicine and pathology are applied to determine a cause of death or injury in the context of a legal inquiry.
Forensic psychology is the study of the mind of an individual, using forensic methods. Usually, it determines the circumstances behind a criminal's behaviour.
Forensic toxicology is the study of the effect of drugs and poisons on/in the human body.