Checks at stores reveal the product is available with little regulation, sometimes off the shelf

Two lives were lost in acid attacks since the beginning of this year but lessons in regulation seem unlearnt, with acids continuing to be freely sold over the counter in various shops across Chennai.

Twenty-three-year-old J. Vinodhini of Karaikal and 21-year-old Vidya of Adambakkam in Chennai were victims of acid attacks earlier this year. But several hardware stores and grocery stores are found selling different types of acids, for different purposes including floor cleaning, without any regulation.

A random check at a number of shops across the city revealed that bottles of acid could be purchased from hardware stores and a departmental store at Royapuram and Kodungaiyur, as well as at a number of shops in other areas including Triplicane.

A salesman at one of the hardware stores warned that the acid, which is used for cleaning floors, was “very powerful” and should be used with a lot of caution. The label on the one-litre bottle, costing Rs. 50, also stated it was ‘highly corrosive’. At a departmental store, a 500-ml bottle of hydrochloric acid could be picked off the shelf and cost Rs. 30.

The Supreme Court, in an interim direction in July prohibited over-the-counter sale of acids and said dealers could sell acids only after buyers produced a photo identity card and specified the purpose of purchase. The sellers are required to maintain a record and submit details of sale to the local police within three days. States and Union Territories were asked to frame rules to regulate the sale of acids.

There are several shops dealing with laboratory chemicals on Nainiappa Naicken Street in Park Town. Two dealers said acids, particularly sulphuric acid, was not sold over-the-counter and buyers had to produce an identity card, which, in case of college students, would be a college ID and letter from the college. However, these acids are sold in small quantities.

N.S. Venkataraman, secretary of Chemical Industries Association, said it was difficult to monitor the sale of acids such as hydrofluoric, sulphuric and hydrochloric, which could cause harm if used in attacks.

“Acids are freely sold in the city. These are sold directly by producers to consumers or through distributors, retail traders or hardware shops. It is impossible to check the unauthorised sale of such chemicals as the number of these shops and traders are high and widespread,” he said.

He said when rules were framed, they would have to be supplemented with a mechanism for implementation, methodology for scrutiny and manpower for enforcement. “The government’s rules are yet to come in. One needs to know if a particular law can be implemented. In this case, steps should be taken to reform the mindset of people. Portrayal of women as the weaker section and objects of sex in films and other forms of media should stop. There should be a curb on liquor,” he said.

He added quick and stringent punishment for offenders would help protect women from such attacks.

Explaining how harmful acids are, J. Jaganmohan, head, plastic surgery and burns department, Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital, said the longer acids stayed on the skin, the deeper they could penetrate and cause extensive damage.

“There should be documentation and data on sale of acid bottles. When concentrated acids are sold to educational institutions, a faculty member should be in-charge of their use. Only diluted acids should be sold for domestic purpose,” he said.

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