The cross-examination of SPR Prasad, the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD, Hyderabad) scientist who said his institution committed a grave "typographical error" in its reports on the Aarushi-Hemraj murder, came to a close on Wednesday.
Prasad goes back to Hyderabad leaving behind him a trail of unanswered questions. The "error" in question was that a 2008 CDFD report said the servant Hemraj's blood was found on a pillow cover in another suspect's room. Krishna, an employee of the accused couple Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, lived a few houses away from the scene of the crime.
In November 2008, the CDFD said traces of Hemraj's blood were found in Krishna's bedding. The defence pointed this out when it received the copies of the report more than two years later. In a matter of a week in March 2011, the CDFD changed the story—the original report had a typographical error, it said, Hemraj's blood was not found on Krishna's pillow cover. Suddenly, there was no case against Krishna—and by the principle of exclusion, the case against the Talwar's became stronger.
The CDFD's quick reaction was a result of a letter the lab received from a CBI SP camping in Hyderabad. This letter pointed only to this specific part of the report and made a pointed suggestion about it: "there seems to be" a typo it said. The CDFD readily agreed, and issued a clarification.
The report in question repeats the "typo" on no less than five occasions. Usually, a draft is gone over word by word with the typist before is put out. Prasad told the trial court that the CBI had not asked for, or received, any of the papers pertaining to how the error was committed in the first place.
The most worrying part of Prasad's statements, however, were those that concerned the chain of custody of the samples that went back and forth between Delhi and Hyderabad. The CDFD seals every sample it sends back to forwarding authorities. On every parcel it dispatches is a printed sticker with all the relevant information on the sample, even the envelopes themselves are supposed to be official CDFD stationery.
Package after package of critical evidence was opened before the court on Wednesday, and there were no CDFD seals on any of them. Stickers had been replaced by handwritten chits, cello-taped to envelopes that were not standard issue: who was responsible for all of this?
The CDFD was the final lab that tested samples in this case. There was no legal reason for anyone to break the lab's seals before the evidence was presented in court. The CDFD sent all the material it tested back to CGO complex offices of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Delhi, a laboratory that works directly for the CBI. Prasad says that he has no idea who broke the seals or why, or when.
He also told the court that the CDFD took no photographs of the samples in the Aarushi case. In March 2011, the CBI showed the Allahabad High Court pictures of the pillow covers at the centre of the typo controversy. How were these pictures taken if the samples were sealed? Prasad had no answers.
Why would a scientist from India's best-known forensic lab be as pliant as a prosecution witness and evasive and vague when cross-examined? Consider this: a special CBI court in Hyderabad has ordered an investigation into the actions of a host of current and former CDFD scientists, from the director J Gowrishankar down to Prasad and the head of his department, Dr Madhusudan Reddy. The Andhra Pradesh High court upheld the order in October.
At issue is the dodgy use of government money, ranging from the petty (the director is alleged to have leased his official accommodation from his wife, who collects rent from the CDFD) to those concerning construction of premises that run into tens of crores. In Prasad's case, the complaint is that he suppressed a number of crucial documents in order to protect the accused. In one case, a judge in Daman censured the CDFD for suppressing material on a murder victim. When the court finally forced the documents out of the CDFD, it handed down a conviction.
So while Prasad appears as a prosecution witness for the CBI in the Aarushi-Hemraj trial, he, his boss and the director of the CDFD are all under investigation on a special CBI court order.
Would such a witness antagonize his handlers in the prosecution in the slightest manner? Tell the whole truth, and nothing but, as he's vowed in court?Latest Articles: Talwars' fate rests on a typographical error?India's premier DNA testing lab doesn't follow international standards?A 'typo' gives Talwars reason to question CBI's integrityIf the Talwars didn’t do it, who possibly did?Are the forensic doctors under CBI pressure?
Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org