THE SUNDAY STORY India is among a handful of countries that witness the maximum number of horrific acid attacks on women. The male perpetrators disfigure women as a form of revenge. They get hold of the corrosive chemical without difficulty, and have little fear of the law. The victims die a hundred deaths
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court pulled up the Union government for failing to come up with a comprehensive and effective law to deal with growing incidents of acid attacks. The court expected a piece of legislation that also deals with treatment, care and rehabilitation of victims, and regulates the free sale of acid. This has not happened for the last seven years when the matter has been pending before the court.
The case has been filed by an acid attack survivor from Delhi, seeking new laws or amendments to deal with the criminal aspects of acid attacks, besides providing for compensation. She has also asked for a total ban on over-the-counter sale of acid.
The Centre has talked about the Union Home Secretary writing to the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to find out whether an expert group could be formed to bring forth a law to ban the free sale of acid.
A concrete sign of progress in law-making has been the recent ordinance on violence against women, which, among other provisions, included two new sections in the Indian Penal Code (Sections 326A, which prescribes a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment for deadly acid attacks that leave the victims grievously injured and causing severe permanent or partial damage and disability, and Section 326B that makes plans and attempts to fling acid on another punishable with a jail term of between five and seven years with fine). Besides, Section 326A also envisages a fine that can go up to Rs. 10 lakh and the amount should go to the victim.
The recent murder of Vinodhini, a victim of acid attack, has brought the focus back on the need for effective monitoring and regulation. With acids being available in the market, for purposes ranging from painting, use in car batteries, in de-weeding and as floor-cleaning substances, they easily fall in the hands of those who want to wreak vengeance.
The rules governing the sale of acids are not being implemented at all, says Manikandan Vathan Chettiar, a Chennai advocate, who has filed a writ petition on behalf of a human rights group seeking enforcement of the Explosives Act.
Unlicensed, over-the-counter sale of acids should be banned immediately, he says. Going a step further, the petitioner, Shanthi, State coordinator of the Citizens for Human Rights Movement, Erode, says that in all acid attack cases, the origin of the chemical should be traced and the vendors prosecuted.
Mr. Vathan Chettiar says acids fall within the meaning of “explosives” and hence should be governed by the Explosives Act.
The Act says the Centre may make rules to regulate or prohibit, except under and in accordance with the conditions of a licence granted as provided by those rules, the manufacture, possession, use, sale and transport of explosives or any specified class of explosives. But the rules remain only on paper.
The Law Commission, in its 226th report, noted that regular inspections and stock-checking by authorities are limited to explosives and not acids. Acids are specifically mentioned only in the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Substances Rules, but these pertain mainly to the way they are handled in the industry and in transit. There is nothing in these rules concerning sales.
In South Asia, Only Bangladesh has a law, the Acid Control Act, 2002.