The DNA repository at the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) in Pune has been used successfully so far in 12 cases to ascertain the identities of the officers and men who died in action or in accidents on field. This includes the victims of the December 8, 2021, MI-17 IAF helicopter crash that claimed the lives of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and his wife, Madhulika, among others, near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.
Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services (DG-AFMS) Lt Gen Daljit Singh said, “We needed to have full proof scientific evidence to ascertain the identity of each body in the helicopter crash. A team of doctors from the AFMC’s forensic medicine department (which is in charge of the DNA repository project) then visited the accident site to collect samples for DNA fingerprinting at the repository to identify the bodies.”
Singh told reporters on the sidelines of the AFMC’s platinum jubilee function on Monday that DNA profiling has played a vital role in identifying the bodies of other soldiers also in the past.
The AFMC had started working on the DNA repository and profiling lab project in February 2012 considering that proper identification of officers and men killed in action or in accidents on field, has legal implications for the heirs, the pension and service benefits. The project involves collecting and preserving blood samples of armed forces personnel in a scientific lab for DNA fingerprinting when required to ascertain the identity of the victim. It was to cover all wings of the armed forces, starting with high-risk personnel like fighter pilots and army men posted in the front.
Singh also spoke about the AFMS having resumed the pilot-doctor project after a gap of almost four decades. “Armed forces doctors are being trained as pilots to get a first-hand understanding of the problems faced by the pilots, who fly a fighter aircraft, and devise apt countermeasures for the same,” he said. “For instance, the stress levels a pilot is exposed to, the space within which he has to operate in an aircraft, the G-force i.e. the force of gravity or acceleration on a body etc.,” he added.
“As part of this project, we are starting with training of two doctors each as pilots in fighter aircraft, helicopter and transport aircraft streams,” Singh added.
On the reports of misuse of disability pension by retired armed forces personnel, Singh said, “The objective of disability pension was to ensure that an officer or soldier injured in service is aptly compensated as he cannot be taken back into service.”
“However, there were litigations in courts with people claiming that those joining armed forces as a healthy person and developing some disability by the time of retirement must get disability pension. This contributed to the issue of misuse, but we are now getting back to the older objective by coming up with a GMO (booklet), which is aligned to the Disability Act provision and defines ailments and disability benefits,” he said.