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SC raps govt on acid attacks, says regulate sale

February 06, 2013 16:34 IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reminded the Union government for the third time to formulate a policy to regulate the sale of acid in the open market.

India has only taken steps to introduce suggestions by the law commission in respect to introducing a section into the Indian Penal Code, which exclusively deals with acid attacks. But law enforcement agencies face a problem in curbing such violence, as acid is easily available in the open market.

Hydrochloric acid costs around Rs 25 per litre. The only law in India, which regulates the sale of acid, is the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989 (amended in 2000). However, this law deals only with industrial solutions. There is also no provision that provides for checking the sale of acid.

Police officials, who have dealt with acid attack cases, have found during their investigation that it is the easy availability, which encourages criminal use. Since 2004, this issue of regulating acid sale has been discussed but none of the states have been able to formulate any policy regarding the same.

Bangaldesh has one of the most effective laws in regulating the sale of acid; a legislation, which has been in place since 2002. The legislation not only provides stringent punishment for the person using acid, but also keeps a proper check on its sale.

The Acid Control Act of Bangladesh has provided the setting up of a national acid control council in every district headed by a commissioner. They in turn keep a regular check on the sale of all kinds of acids and also report/punish those selling it without permission.

The acid attacks’ issue was dealt with in detail by the law commission of India in 2009. The commission had recommended the introduction of Section 326 A in the Indian Penal Code to deal exclusively with acid attacks.

The commission in a detailed 41-page report had stated that acid attacks were on the rise and there was no special section in the IPC, which dealt with this offence. Section 326 of the IPC that deals with causing grievous hurt is inadequate to deal with the issue for the following reasons the commission had noted.

  • Definition of grievous hurt is not broad enough to cover the various kinds of injuries, which are inflicted during acid attacks.
  • Secondly, the section does not cover the act of administering acid. Thirdly, the section gives a wide discretion to the courts as far as punishment is concerned. The cases of acid attacks in India show that normally inadequate punishment is awarded.
  • The section in the IPC does not punish the intentional act of throwing of acid if no injuries occur. It also does not specify to whom the fine should be slapped.

 The commission had also made the following recommendations:

  • The distribution and sale of acid should be banned except for commercial and scientific purposes.
  • Acid should be made a scheduled banned chemical that should not be available over the counter.
  • The particulars of purchasers of acid should be recorded.

Although the government has not done anything to regulate the sale of acid the only point that it considered was the introduction of Section 326 A IPC.

326 A (i) Hurt by acid attack: Whoever burns or maims or disfigures or disables any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or administering acid to that person, with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description which shall not be less than 10 years but which may extend to life and with fine which may extend to Rs 10 lakh.

Observations by the Commission:

In India, it has been said, “Acid attacks on women are a systemic form of gendered sexual violence. Unlike acid attacks on men, these attacks are used as a weapon to silence and control women by destroying what is constructed as the primary constituent of her identity, i.e. her body. It is important then for any campaign against acid attacks to mobilise public opinion towards recognising acid attacks as a form of gendered sexual violence and more importantly to recognise the patriarchal notions underlying these attacks.”

In the Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum case, the SC had pronounced upon the need by the government to set up a criminal injuries compensation board for rape victims within 6 months. It had suggested that this board should give compensation whether or not a conviction takes place. The SC explained the justification for this proposal as under:

It is necessary, having regard to the directive principles contained under Article 38(I) of the Constitution of India to set-up a criminal injuries compensation board.

Rape victims frequently incur substantial financial loss. Some, for example are too traumatised to continue in employment.

Compensation for victims should be awarded by the court on conviction of the offender and by the criminal injuries compensation board whether or not a conviction takes place. The board will take into account pain, suffering and shock as well as loss of earnings due to pregnancy and the expenses of the child but if this occurred as a result of the rape.

Vicky Nanjappa