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Peshawar forensic lab facing closure

August 27, 2013
The laboratory is short of high-tech equipment thus, overburdening the staff and compromising the quality of their work. -Photo by AFP
The laboratory is short of high-tech equipment thus, overburdening the staff and compromising the quality of their work. -Photo by AFP

PESHAWAR: There are fears that the Forensic Science Laboratory in Peshawar will shut down due to acute shortage of experts and lack of equipment.

During its initial years, the laboratory, which was set up in 1976 to help police investigate crimes along scientific lines, received 300 cases annually from within the province and the adjoining restive tribal areas.

However, the number surged in the years ahead.

Last year, 70,000 cases were referred to the laboratory for investigation.

The laboratory had 85 members of staff at its establishment but there has been no fresh recruitment since, it is learned.

According to the relevant officials, more than half of the laboratory’s technical staff, including experts, has retired over the years but the vacancies have yet to be filled.

Also, the laboratory is short of high-tech equipment and thus, overburdening the staff and compromising the quality of their work.

“The lab is on the verge of closure,” an insider told Dawn on Monday.

On several occasions, Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan called for the strengthening of scientific investigation to ensure conviction and punishment of terrorists and other criminals.

The rate of acquittal in criminal cases, especially those of terrorist activities, is very high due to lack of forensic evidence.

The officials said the people were unwilling to become witness in terrorist cases, including bombings and suicide attacks, and thus, helping terrorists get off scot-free.

They said the European Commission and the British and Australia governments had helped Punjab and Sindh strengthen the police’s forensic labs to counter crime, including terrorism, but there was not such assistance for Peshawar’s forensic science laboratory.

The officials said the laboratory received cases of crime and terrorism from within the province and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban were active, and investigated them on payment by courts, and education, health and other departments.

They said the shifting of the laboratory from Chowki 2 to a rented building in Hayatabad Township had adversely affected the efficiency of the staff.

“The members of the staff feel insecure on their current premises for being located in a congested, commercial area. Also, the building owned by Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited and earlier used as a guesthouse is unfit for finger-printing, photography, fire arms injury, handwriting and other chemical examinations,” an insider said.

He said the administration had spent Rs3 million on making necessary changes to the building but that didn’t help.

Earlier, the laboratory was located in a purpose-built building within the Chowki 2 high security zone near the Bacha Khan Airport, where the members of staff, he said, felt safe.

That building also had the offices of the police’s special branch.

In 2007, some members of the provincial assembly had highlighted the laboratory’s poor state of affairs on the floor of the House and suggested that the science graduates be recruited by the laboratory to train them to replace the retiring experts, but to no avail.

For the laboratory, they had demanded approval of posts of four inspectors and sub-inspectors each, and six assistant sub-inspectors and head constables, and a proper service structure for the staff.

The officials said the staff currently didn’t have promotion opportunities but their colleagues working in other cadres of police had claimed higher grades over the years.

They said the top bosses of the laboratory had failed to avail themselves of funds offered by donor agencies as it was at the central point of producing circumstantial evidence against the Taliban.

The officials said the government with the financial assistance of the UNDP was setting up a forensic science laboratory in Malakand division to reinforce forensic facilities in seven local districts, which accounted for only five to seven per cent of the cases examined by the Peshawar laboratory. They said the laboratory received most forensic cases from Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Kohat and Mardan.