State’s apathy towards forensic sector affects investigations

  • Police officials say authorities should focus more on producing better trained manpower
- NAYAK PAUDEL, Kathmandu

Mar 23, 2019-

Incumbent and former police officials as well as forensic experts have expressed concern over the government’s apathy towards the forensic sector, which they say has been hugely hampering investigations.

According to police, lack of forensic knowledge among health personnel has affected investigation processes, as autopsy and forensic reports lack details and barely provide enough information to investigators.

“When there is no strong evidence to prove whether a death is a homicide, a suicide or a natural death, we rely on the autopsy report. If the autopsy report says the cause of death is ‘undetermined’, the investigation hits a roadblock in the very beginning,” said Mohan Kumar Thapa, a deputy superintendent of police at the Metropolitan Police Range, Hanumandhoka. “Since there is a lack of proficiency among health personnel, the autopsy reports often mention the cause of the deaths as ‘undetermined’. And then we have to rely on these reports. They barely give us enough information to carry the investigation forward.”

 As per police officials working outside the Valley, health personnel performing autopsies at district, zonal or regional hospitals have not been able to come up with broader and extensive reports that are helpful for investigators to move their investigations forward.

“The health personnel at district, zonal or regional hospitals provide a basic autopsy report. They cannot provide details like the forensic experts in the Valley,” Superintendent of Police Ishwor Karki, chief of Mahottari District Police, told the Post.

According to former senior police officers, the government has been neglecting the forensic sector despite knowing its importance in police investigation.

“Lack of forensic experts at local levels has been affecting our investigation. It’s time the government starts investing in this crucial sector,” Hemanta Malla, a former deputy inspector general, told the Post.

Forensic experts argue that the government has not recognised the forensic sector as a specialist sector.

“A medical supervisor, who only has basic knowledge of forensic, usually performs an autopsy, while forensic experts are limited to teaching field due to lack of job opportunities,”  Dr Nuwadatta Subedi, a forensic expert, told the Post.

“There are around 45 forensic experts but the government has only allocated two jobs for us across the country. If experts are appointed in regional or zonal hospitals, for now, detailed autopsy and other forensic reports can be prepared outside the Valley as well,” said Subedi, who works as an associate professor at Gandaki Medical College.

Forensic experts have also pointed out that the problem has not only been limited to autopsy.

“Health personnel at district, zonal or regional hospitals can conduct basic autopsy. But these facilities are not well-equipped and cannot preserve evidence collected from the bodies and transport them to a well-equipped laboratories by maintaining the required temperature,” Dr Harihar Wasti, a renowned forensic expert, told the Post.

“In the case of Nirmala Pant, the doctor performing the autopsy had not collected enough samples from the victim’s vaginal swab,” said Wasti, who was a member of the probe committee formed by the National Human Rights Commission to carry out an investigation on the rape and murder of the 13-year-old girl from Kanchanpur.

The Nirmala rape and murder case is yet to be resolved even eight months after the crime was committed.

Doctors at district, zonal and regional hospitals also say they face numerous challenges while conducting autopsies. “Basic training is given to doctors. But with basic training, only a basic autopsy report can be provided. Doctors cannot perform a detailed autopsy due to lack of knowledge and equipment,” Dr Hem Raj Pandey, medical superintendent of Seti Zonal Hospital, told the Post.

According to police officials, the government can provide additional training for those doctors conducting autopsy at district, zonal or regional hospitals in order to make them capable to perform better autopsies and other forensic tests as well.

“The government cannot provide forensic experts across the country due to lack of manpower, but it can train health personnel as

police officers are trained as Scene of Crime Officer,” Senior Superintendent of Police Uttam Raj Subedi, spokesperson for Nepal Police, told the Post.

The Scene of Crime Officer training is an expensive training programme provided by Nepal Police to make officers capable to collect, lift, protect and transport evidence to a well-equipped lab.

“We are very primitive in the forensic sector, which deals with dead bodies and DNA among others. However, it is unknown if the government will show any concern regarding the necessity of digital forensic labs and more personnel,” Dhiru Basnyat, additional inspector general, told the Post.

Security experts have suggested that the government focus on investing and upgrading the forensic sector so as to make the investigation process more effective.

 “There is minimal investment in the forensic sector. If the government does not invest in the forensic sector now, it will be too difficult—and expensive—to upgrade it later,” said Malla, who is also a former chief of the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police.

Published: 23-03-2019 20:58

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