Acid attack is a brutal act of throwing acid (vitriol) or equally abrasive substance, which is a violent form of assault on a person with an intention to torture or disfigure or even to kill. Usually the offender throws acid at the victim's face inorder to disfigure the face by burning them and damaging the skin tissues. This inhuman and monstrous act will result in the permanent injury of the face and sometimes total blindness as well as traumatize the victim mentally as well as physically.
The Supreme Court in Omanakuttan v. The State of Kerala noted, " It needs hardly any emphasis that the act of causing grievous hurt by use of acid, by its very nature, is a gruesome and horrendous one, which, apart from causing severe bodily pain, leaves the scars and untold permanent miseries for the victim."
Earlier, in Laxmi v. Union of India & Ors., a PIL filed by Laxmi Agarwal, acid-attack survivor(on whose life the recent movie "Chhappak" is based), where she pleaded to frame the regulations relating to sale and purchase of acid inorder to curb attacks in India, to make new law or amend the existing laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act, CrPC to include acid attack as a separate crime and to rehabilitate and compensate the acid attack victims , the apex court directed for:
The court also convinced the Centre and States/Union Territories to make the offences under the Poison Act,1919 cognizable and non-bailable.
The apex court also issued issued directions such as:
"(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) a photo ID issued by the Government which also has the address of the person.
(b) specifies the reason/purpose for procuring 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 of age.
(v) In case of undeclared stock of acid, it will be open to the concerned SDM to confiscate the stock and suitably impose fine on such seller up to ` 50,000/-
(vi) The concerned SDM may impose fine up to ` 50,000/- on any person who commits breach of any of the above directions.
The educational institutions, research laboratories, hospitals, Government Departments and the departments of Public Sector Undertakings, who are required to keep and store acid, shall follow the following guidelines:
(I) A register of usage of acid shall be maintained and the same shall be filed with the concerned SDM.
(II) A person shall be made accountable for possession and safe keeping of acid in their premises.
(III) The acid shall be stored under the supervision of this person and there shall be compulsory checking of the students/personnel leaving the laboratories/place of storage where acid is used".
The apex court also ordered the Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to take up the matter with the State Governments/Union Territories to ensure than an appropriate notification on the banning of sale of acid across the country to be issued. Further, the court directed to pay a compensation of at least 3 lakhs by the concerned State Government /Union Territory after care and rehabilitation cost and out of this amount, a sum of 1 lakh to be paid to the acid attack victim within 15 days of occurrence of such incidents and the balance 2 lakhs expeditiously and positively within two months thereafter.
The court further directed the State Governments/Union Territories to take up the matter seriously to the effect that private hospitals should not refuse treatment of victims of acid attack and that full treatment should be provided to such victims including medicines, food, bedding and reconstructive surgeries.
Legal Provisions enacted under IPC and CrPC and Compensation
Since the acid attack was a new and developing category of crime, Government seized the subject and brought in amendment through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. The provisions inserted in the Indian Penal Code were:
'326A. Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid, etc.—Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or bums 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 by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and with fine:
326B. Voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid.—Whoever throws or attempts to administer acid on any person or attempts to administer acid to any person, or attempts to use any other means, with the intention of causing permanent or partial damage or deformity or bums or maiming or disfigurement or disability or grievous hurt to that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.'
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 also added sections 357-B and 357-C which deals with the compensation payable by the State Government in addition to the payment of fine under section 326-A of the IPC and providing first-aid or medical treatment free of cost respectively.
Also, Section 357A which was inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 vide the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008, which provides for compensation to victims of crime also included victims of sexual crimes including rape, acid attacks, crime against children, and human trafficking
In Piyali Dutta v. The State of West Bengal & Ors., the Calcutta High Court ruled that the victims of acid attacks prior to December 2009, i.e., the insertion of section 357A of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 would be entitled to compensation. The petition was filed by an acid attack victim Ms. Piyali Dutta who sought compensation under the said section of CrPC despite the fact that the provision was not place in 2005 when she was attacked.
In a SC judgment, Justice N.V. Ramana has opined that "the criminal justice system has not served the deceased from being victimized" and also noted that despite the amendments undertaken in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, the number of acid attacks have been on the rise. He also observed that having stringent laws and enforcement agencies may not be sufficient unless deep-rooted gender bias is removed from the society. It was observed by the apex court in the case Suresh Chandra v. The State of West Bengal & Ors., where the appeal was filed by the brother of the deceased acid attack victim challenging an order passed by the Calcutta High Court, where the accused were acquitted of the charge under section 302 IPC.
In July 2018, the Supreme Court accepted the Scheme on Victim Compensation for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Acid Attack, 2018 submitted by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and a Committee comprising officers of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, the Department of Legal Affairs, and the National Commission for Women.
The acid attack victim was directed to claim compensation from District Legal Services Authority under the Victim Compensation Scheme in, Muthulakshmi Vs. The District Collector, Ramnad District and others. In this case the petition was filed by the acid attack victim seeking compensation in view of the severity of her injury, expenditure with regard to grafting and reconstruction surgery, physical and mental pain and disability by the attack.
The Victim Compensation Scheme says the Secretary SLSA or Secretary DLSA may suo moto or after preliminary verification of the facts can proceed to grant interim relief as may be required in the circumstances of each case at any time after the commission of the offence. The scheme also provides Rs. 1 Lakh to be paid to the victim within 15 days of the matter being brought to the notice SLSA/DLSA.
In the case of Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India the petitioner contended that despite the directions of the Supreme Court in Laxmi v. Union of India, the selling of acid were readily available to most of the population in India. The petitioner in this case also contended that the acid attackers were living with impunity and the victims were not in a position to afford basic care or services.
The apex court in this case ordered stringent action to be taken against those erring person supplying acid without proper authorization and also the concerned authorities to be made responsible for failure to keep a check on the distribution of the acid.
The court also enhanced the compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs as stated in the case of Laxmi v. Union of India to minimum amount of Rs. 6 lakhs stating that,
"Keeping in view the impact of acid attack on the victim on his social, economical and personal life, we need to enhance the amount of compensation. We cannot be oblivious of the fact that the victim of acid attack requires permanent treatment for the damaged skin. The mere amount of Rs. 3 lakhs will not be of any help to such a victim. We are conscious of the fact that enhancement of the compensation amount will be an additional burden on the State. But prevention of such a crime is the responsibility of the State and the liability to pay the enhanced compensation will be of the State."
The apex court in State of Himachal Pradesh & Anr. v. Vijay Kumar and Anr., directed the two convicts to pay Rs.1,50,000/- each as compensation to acid attack victim. In the said case, the victim was going to college when two boys came on a scooter and threw some acid over her from a jug and run away from the spot. "A crime of this nature does not deserve any kind of clemency", said the Supreme Court.
Awarding of punishments to the offender in cases of acid attack has varied from life imprisonment to death penalty. In Preeti Rahi acid attack case, the offender threw acid on the victim's (Preeti Rahi) face while she was on Platform no.3 of Bandra Terminus. After going through unbearable pain for 30 days the victim later lost her vision, face was disfigured and the acid affected her chest and burnt her lungs. Her food-pipe and respiratory pipe was also damaged due to accidental swallowing of acid. The Bombay High Court in this case awarded death penalty to the offender taking into account the gruesome act that he had done.
Whereas, in the case of Suresh v. The State of Karnataka, the apex court confirmed life imprisonment awarded to the offender in an acid attack. In this case the woman was working as a receptionist in a hospital in Karnataka. One of the accused in this case, Vasantharaj, was pestering her to marry him. One day, he along with his friend (Suresh), came in front of her and threw acid first of all on her shoulder and then on her face and ear. Her head and face were totally disfigured and her right ear was permanently damaged.
In Kailas Sitaram v. State of Maharashtra, where the accused Kailas Sitaram had thrown acid on the victim when she rejected his advances and refused his proposal for marriage, the Bombay High Court enhanced the sentence of the accused from seven years imprisonment by the trial court to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs. 2 lakhs on him to be paid to the victim as compensation under Section 357(1) CrPC. The court observed,
"She will never become normal on account of permanent disfigurement of her face, neck, hands and other parts of the body. Therefore, here in the case, the hurt caused is a permanent damage to her physically and psychologically. Hence, no other punishment except that of the maximum punishment of life imprisonment can do real justice to her."
In another case, the Supreme Court set aside the Hyderabad High Court's order observing that the High Court reduced the sentence imposed on a convict. This was in the case of Ravada Sasikala v. State of Andhra Pradesh, where the apex court set aside the High Court judgement which awarded 30 days imprisonment in acid attack case and restored the sentence imposed by the trial court.
The trial court in this case held the offender guilty under Section 326 and 448 IPC and sentenced him to suffer rigorous imprisonment for one year and directed to pay a fine of Rs. 5,000 with a default clause under Section 326 IPC, and sentenced him to pay a fine of Rs. 1,000 for the offence under Section 448 IPC with a default clause. The apex court also directed the accused to pay a compensation 50,000 and the state to pay a compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs to the victim.
In State of Uttarakhand v. Ajam, where the offender poured acid on the victim while she was on her way back from tuition and shouted that if the victim did not belong to him, he would ruin her life, the Uttarakhand High Court issued several directions for rehabilitation of acid attack victims which includes monthly payments to the victims who have received third/fourth degree burn injuries in addition to the ex-gratia lump-sum payment and reservation in public employment in the category of physically challenged persons. The High Court also directed all courts across Uttarakhand to conduct day-to-day hearing for including the trial in such matters within three months.
The Delhi High Court in Renu Sharma v. GNCT of Delhi and Ors., awarded 10 years imprisonment to the convict and to pay Rs.10,000/- as fine. This petition was filed by an 'acid attack victim' seeking compensation of 50 lakhs and a government job of not less than Grade II officer to her or one of her family members. The accused in this case was further directed to pay compensation of Rs.5 lakhs to the victim within a period of 4 weeks. The court also directed the State to pay compensation of Rs.3 lakhs to the victim also within a period of 4 weeks.
In Anil Shivaji Patil v. The State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court cut short the life sentence awarded to a man convicted for throwing acid on his former girlfriend after it was informed that they had "amicably settled" the matter, with them having married each other.
Now, regarding the employment of acid attack survivors, the Delhi High Court in Rema Sharma case directed the government of NCT, Delhi, to provide employment to the acid attack victim appropriate to her educational qualifications as well as medical status. The High Court further directed for the reimbursement of her medical bills and an appointment of an officer by Finance Secretary of GNCT, Delhi to scrutinize the medical bills for the same.
The Delhi High Court has also offered jobs to five acid attack survivors.
In Yasmeen Mansuree v. Union of India & Ors., the Delhi High Court directed the AIIMS to consider the appointment against the post of Nursing Officers to examine om merits the case of woman, who braved acid attack 15 years ago and appoint her as nursing officer even if it requires creating a supernumerary post. In this case, Ms. Yasmeen challenged the notification issued by AIIMS for recruitment of staff nurse in which acid attack victims were not given quota under Persons With Disability (PWD).
When the AIIMS failed to comply with the said order, the Delhi High Court imposed a stay on the process of recruitment of 2000 nursing officers for being discriminatory and depriving the victims and others like her of equal opportunity in public employment.
Severe and harsh law needs to be implemented in order to curb acid attacks. In countries such as Bangladesh, Colombia, Pakistan such laws have dropped the rate of acid attacks to an extent.
Bangladesh was the first country to pass a law banning acid violence in the year 2002. The acid attack incidents experienced a severe drop in the rate of occurrence after the implementation of the said law in Bangladesh which was known as the country with the highest number of such attacks. The law imposes death penalty for the perpetrators of acid attack. In January 2016, Colombia enacted powerful legislative framework to impose sentences of 12 to 50 years in jail to perpetrators of acid attacks. Approximately 100 acid attacks each year, Colombia was making it one of the highest rates in the world.
In Pakistan the acid attacks became illegal when parliament passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill which carry punishments of life imprisonment.
In India, even though the Supreme Court has issued guidelines in Laxmi v. Union of India regarding the sale of acid, thousands of acid bottles are still being sold illegally and in complete violation of these guidelines. There is also a necessity for a legislation solely regarding acid attack rather than including "new provisions" in IPC as well as Cr.P.C. As we have noted in the above cases, the punishment for the offender has varied from rigorous imprisonment for one year to life imprisonment and even to the extent of death sentence in each case. Since acid attack being a life threatening act, there is a necessity to bring in severe and unique legislation which ensures stricter punishment for the offenders rather than letting them walk out after serving a few years in prison.