R. K. Saini, the flammable counsel for the CBI in the Aarushi-Hemraj trial, told the court something on Tuesday that had no immediate bearing on the proceedings at hand: he announced that the accused had filed an application under the Right to Information Act. Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, had indeed filed such an application. Through it, they sought details of the quality and standards guidelines followed by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL).
Forensic laboratories around the world make this information public on their websites, but not the CFSL. During this trial, witnesses representing the CFSL have been either non-committal or sketchy in their testimonies with regard to guidelines. Hence the RTI application.
But what Saini's announcement in court revealed was something a little deeper. It spoke of the relationship between the CFSL and India's premier investigating agency, the CBI.
The RTI application was filed on Dr Nupur Talwar's behalf on Monday afternoon. Its concerns were limited to CFSL and its guidelines, it had nothing to do with the CBI. Yet the very next morning, the CBI counsel Saini told the court that such an application had been filed. For an agency that has been working for several weeks on trying to find one of its own witnesses—a doctor in government service—this is pretty fast work.
How did Saini know? Information of this kind is generally passed on, after due process (as this reporter was reminded), through the information department of the CFSL. J.G. Moses, the officer who heads the department, told me that he was aware that the RTI was filed, but he had not passed this information on to the CBI: "I did not tell them".
Someone evidently did. This has some inescapable implications about the CFSL and its witness' neutrality. And it isn't something that has gone unnoticed by the genuine scientists in the CFSL. The new director, C.N. Bhattacharya, told me that he had observed a "parallel administration". The CFSL and the CBI are located in the same complex on Lodhi Road in New Delhi. The lab is supposed to be an independent body—one that deals empirically with evidence and data—but it wasn't uncommon, observed Bhattacharya, a committed, lifelong scientist, with substantial work in the area of ballistics, for people from CFSL to "be called" to CBI. Bhattacharya wondered about this, but in the end, both organisations report to the same authority: the bureaucrats at the Ministry on Home Affairs. He let it slide.
The laboratory is supposed to be an independent one—it handles cases from a variety of sources—but the CFSL's website says "CFSL, CBI, New Delhi is a scientific department under the administrative control of CBI and overall control of the Ministry of Home Affairs with the Govt. of India".
So Dr S.K. Singla, the CFSL serology expert who appeared as a prosecution witness on Tuesday has had a long stint at the CFSL. But his cross examination revealed more of the government servant in him than the scientist.
One of the claims Singla had made was that Aarshi's killing took place when the door to her bedroom was open. When he was asked whether he had a scientific basis for this or whether he had put this on record in any of his reports, he said he hadn't, and that it was an observartion, based on how blood might have splattered.
His own subject was serology, at a base level is blood studies. Here, Singla was asked whether a once suspected murder weapon, the Talwars' employee Krishna's khukri, had blood on it. Singla said that it had, but admitted that he had failed to identify the species to which the blood belonged—he had eliminated humans and all domestic animals.
In his testimony, Singla had given the impression that he had visited the murder site on two days to collect clues. During his cross-examination, he admitted he was there just for the second day. He said he could not remember where different samples were collected from—specifically, blood stains from a floor below the Talwars' flat, which the defence wants explanation for.
As with all witnesses, it was suggested to Singla that he had testified under pressure from the CBI. Singla, like every other witness responded with the standard negative. This would be fine if the CFSL was a genuinely independent body. The question one left the court with on Tuesday was: Is it?
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