The Acid Test
In a horrific incident on December 14, a 17-year-old girl on her way to school with her younger sister was attacked with an acid-like substance by two men on a motorcycle near her home in Dwarka. The accused were arrested by the Delhi police, while the victim suffered 8% burns and disfigurement of the face and neck.
The accused confessed that they had watched crime shows on TV to escape from the police. During their interrogation, the police found that the acid used was bought by the accused from e-commerce company Flipkart. The police issued a notice and sought all information from Flipkart regarding the purchase of the acid by the accused, including how they placed the order and paid for it. The police questioned company officials about where they got the acid bottle from and whether they could legally sell acid on their portal.
Earlier, Delhi Commission for Women president Swati Maliwal had tweeted that the acid was bought from Flipkart. Taking serious note of the acid attack, the Commission sent a notice to the company and the police in this regard. The Commission will examine whether rules were followed in buying acid or not.
Moreover, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) sent notices to Flipkart and another e-commerce company, Meesho, for gross violation of rules related to the sale of acid on their platforms. Significantly, the Confederation of All India Traders general secretary Praveen Khandelwal has urged Delhi Police Commissioner Sanjay Arora to take cognizance of the matter and initiate immediate legal action against Flipkart.
According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), Britain is at the forefront of acid attack cases. Here acid is used in gang war. India comes second. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 102 cases of acid attack were reported in 2021. Apart from this, 48 cases of attempted acid attack were also registered. ASTI says that on an average, it takes up to 10 years for an acid attack case to be resolved in court.
The president on April 2, 2013, consented to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, where specific provisions were inserted to deal with crimes against women, including acid attack. These were:
- Section 326A of the IPC provides for a minimum 10 years imprisonment for causing hurt by acid attack, extendable to life, and with fine. The fine shall be just and reasonable to meet the medical expenses of treatment. Any fine levied under this Section shall be given to the person on whom the acid has been thrown or administered, which will be in addition to any compensation paid to the victim by the state government under the Victim Compensation Scheme.
- Section 326B of the IPC provides a minimum punishment of five years, extendable to seven years and fine for attempt to throw or administer acid.
There are also provisions for punishment on denial of registration for crimes against women. Section 166A of the IPC says that any public servant who:
(a) knowingly disobeys any direction of the law which prohibits him from requiring the attendance at any place of any person for the purpose of investigation into an offence or any other matter, or
(b) Knowingly disobeys, to the prejudice of any person, any other direction of the law regulating the manner in which he shall conduct such investigation, or
(c) fails to record any information given to him under sub-section (1) of the Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (2 of 1974), in relation to cognizable offence punishable under Section 326A, Section 3268, Section 354, Section 3548, Section 370, Section 370A, Section 376A, Section 3768, Section 376C, Section 376D, Section 376E or Section 509 shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 166B further says: “Punishment for non-treatment of victim: Whoever, being in charge of a hospital, public or private, whether run by the Central Government, the State Government, local bodies or any other person, contravenes the provisions of Section 357C of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”
Coming to provisions for the treatment of victims of crime, Section 357A of the CrPC says: Every state government in co-ordination with the centre shall prepare a scheme for providing funds for the purpose of compensation to the victim or his dependents who have suffered loss or injury as a result of the crime and who require rehabilitation. The Section also lays down detailed procedure for ascertaining compensation to be paid to the victims and disbursal method to be adopted.
Section 357B of the CrPC says: Compensation to be in addition to fine under Section 326A or Section 376D of the IPC. The compensation payable by the state government under Section 357A shall be in addition to the payment of fine to the victim under Section 326A or Section 376D of the IPC. Section 357C which deals with treatment to victims says: All hospitals, public or private, shall immediately provide first-aid or medical treatment free of cost to the victims of any offence covered under Sections 326A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or 376E of the IPC and shall immediately inform the police of such incident.
In 2013, the Supreme Court while hearing a PIL filed in 2006 by a Delhi-based acid attack victim, ordered the federal and state governments to regulate the sale of acid in an attempt to prevent their misuse. Accordingly, the home ministry issued an advisory to all states on how to regulate acid sale and framed the Model Poisons Possession and Sale Rules, 2013 under The Poisons Act, 1919.
According to the home ministry’s directions:
i) Over the counter sale of acid is completely prohibited unless the seller maintains a log/register recording the sale of acid which will contain the details of the person(s) to whom acid(s) is/are sold and the quantity sold. The log/register shall contain the address of the person to whom it is sold.
(ii) All sellers shall sell acid only after the buyer has shown a photo ID issued by the government which has his address and specifies the reason/purpose for procuring the acid.
(iii) All stocks of acid must be declared by the seller with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days.
(iv) No acid shall be sold to any person who is below 18 years.
(v) In case of undeclared stock of acid, it will be open to the concerned SDM to confiscate it and suitably impose fine on such a seller up to Rs 50,000.
The ministry directed states that acid attack victims should be paid compensation of at least Rs 3 lakh towards care and rehabilitation cost. Out of this, Rs 1 lakh shall be paid to the victim within 15 days of the occurrence of the incident (or being brought to the notice of the state government/Union Territory) to facilitate immediate medical attention and expenses. The balance Rs 2 lakh should be paid as expeditiously as may be possible and positively within two months. The ministry has asked states to earmark 1-2 beds at the apex state tertiary hospital for the treatment of acid attack victims so that they don’t have to run from pillar to post to get cosmetic operations performed expeditiously.
“In addition, private hospitals which have availed the facility of concessional land for setting up the hospital could also be persuaded to earmark 1-2 beds for treatment of under-privileged victims of acid attacks which the State Government can identify for treatment. Apart from the medical facilities, the State should also extend social integration programmes to the victims for which an NGO(s) could be funded to exclusively look after their rehabilitative requirements. It is also requested that the contents of Section 357C of the CrPC and 166B of the IPC be brought to the notice of all medical institutions functioning in the public or private sector to ensure strict compliance,” said the advisory.
Incidents of acid throwing have often come from all parts of India. In April, a 24-year-old woman from Bengaluru sustained serious burn injuries after her stalker allegedly threw acid on her. The accused had been following her for years even after she had rejected his marriage proposal.
In Kaushambi, UP, a senior bank manager suffered burn injuries when two persons allegedly threw acid on her. In MP, two persons were injured after they were attacked with acid in Raisen district in August 2022. The Supreme Court has taken a tough stand in such cases. In April this year, it dismissed the plea of an advocate seeking suspension of sentence following his appeal against conviction for acid attack on a handicapped woman.
—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau