KARACHI: The Sindh Forensic DNA and Serology Laboratory (SFDL), University of Karachi, has employed all the international quality standards while carrying out forensic DNA analyses of the submitted samples related to the unfortunate incident of the PIA plane crash.
The laboratory relates the results of its reports with the tested items only, while sampling, coding, tagging, and handing over of bodies to legal heirs remains the responsibility of the medico-legal department.
The Director of the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi and COMSTECH’s Coordinator-General, Prof Dr Iqbal Choudhary, stated this in a recent executive meeting held at the SFDL meeting room. The SFDL In-charge, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed and other officials, were also present on occasion.
He expressed serious concerns over the false allegations levelled over some results of DNA tests in a talk show of a private channel. He said, “Unfortunately, a malicious media campaign is going on by certain elements to undermine the efforts of the SFDL as the first standard laboratory of the Sindh province.”
After the incident of the plane crash, the SFDL was assigned the national job of identification of dead bodies of victims, he explained, adding that reference samples (samples of relatives) were collected at the Sample Receiving Unit of the SFDL by fulfilling all the legal requirements and documentation.
Samples from the dead bodies were collected by medico-legal officers under the supervision of the Police Surgeon Karachi and submitted by the police to the SFDL, along with a request from a competent authority to proceed for analysis, he mentioned.
Talking about the unnecessary interference of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA), Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed said that after the incident, while the SFDL sample receiving unit was receiving reference samples, a team of the PFSA visited the sample receiving unit.
The team demanded the SFDL officials to handover samples and case records to them, he said. However, they remained unable to produce any authorization from the competent authority for their involvement in this case, Dr Ishtiaq stated. The legal requirements were amicably explained to the team for their intended participation, he said, adding that later the SFDL tried to engage the PFSA through the proper channel, but its request of collaboration was not responded positively.
He said, “It is obvious that forensic samples and case records cannot be shared with anyone without authorization of competent authority.”
The PFSA collected samples from dead bodies without authorization and fulfilling legal requirements, Dr Ishtiaq mentioned. The PFSA received and analyzed reference samples provided to them without maintaining chain of custody, he maintained. Given the fact that sampling of the PFSA was not supervised by the medico-legal officers, no chain of custody was maintained, and the sampling and coding do not match with the SFDL, its reports cannot be used in comparison with the reports of the SFDL at any legal grounds, he said.
Unfortunately, this media campaign is being fanned by some high officials of the PFSA ignoring their own illegal and unauthorized intervention in the case; against Sindh’s official lab that fulfilled all the legal requirements while proceeding with the analysis, he said.
The SFDL maintains a complete record of the process, raw data, profiles, and analysis of all generated reports and is ready to prove the scientific accuracy of its analysis, he stated.
It is important to mention here that the SFDL was set up with the financial help of the Sindh Health Department at the Jamil-ur-Rahman Centre for Genome Research, which works as part of the Dr Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research (PCMD) at the University of Karachi. It was operationalized in July 2019. An MoU was signed between the Department of Health Government of Sindh and the ICCBS in this regard. Honourable Justice Faisal Arab, Judge Supreme Court of Pakistan, directly supervised the establishment of the laboratory and visited the laboratory twice to monitor the progress and the standard.