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Science against law in Soren conviction

New Delhi, Nov. 29: The Shibu Soren case may pit science against law.

Law enforcement agencies ignored highly reliable DNA tests and turned to an inferior technique to establish the identity of the skeleton claimed to be the remains of Shashinath Jha, for whose murder Shibu Soren was convicted yesterday. Soren later resigned as coal minister.

A DNA test on four samples of a bone from the skeleton showed they were “not biologically related” to DNA belonging to Jha’s mother or his brother. Investigators then resorted to skull superimposition to compare features of the skull and a picture of Jha’s face.

Scientists at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Analysis in Hyderabad where the tests were done say DNA fingerprinting is the most reliable method to establish the identity of an individual, unlike skull superimposition which is subjective and probabilistic.

The skeleton was recovered from a dense forest near Ranchi in 1998, over four years after Jha went missing.

Jha’s mother Priyamvada Devi had consistently maintained that the body was not of her son, while Soren had said it was of a person called Aleem.

“A DNA test delivers an absolutely reliable result — match or no match. There’s no scope for anything in between,” a Hyderabad centre scientist said.

In skull superimposition, several features observed on the skull are matched with facial features that can be picked up through a photograph. This case had six similarities, including features associated with the eyes, jaw and nose.

A scientist at the centre said the skull superimposition technique is “subjective”.

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