The Delhi High Court’s recent dismissal of a plea seeking a total ban on over-the-counter sale of acid in retail stores came as a disappointment for acid attack survivors in the city.
According to the public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2020, such attacks “continue to take place in our country due to the easy availability of acid in every nook and cranny”.
Acid attack survivor and activist Shaheen Malik had, in her PIL, sought comprehensive measures to regulate accessibility to the substance, in addition to a ban on its over-the-counter sale.
In its verdict on July 27, a Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Narula noted the potential unintended consequences of a blanket ban on acid sales and instead called for stricter enforcement of existing regulations.
The Supreme Court had in 2013 ruled that to sell acids, establishments compulsorily require a licence and have to be registered under the Poisons Act. It underlined that owners of such shops must ask customers to disclose the reason for buying acid and furnish an identity proof.
The latest available data of the National Crime Records Bureau shows that 176 acid attacks were reported across the country in 2021, a marginal fall from 182 in 2020.
However, in a 2020 survey, the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) said it found that acid was being sold illegally over the counter “without any difficulty” at hardware or sanitary shops almost everywhere in Delhi.
Though retailers of such substances have to abide by the Delhi Poisons Possession and Sales Rules, 2015, which regulates the storage and sale of acid, the HRLN survey noted that most shops were selling acid even without noting down the identities of buyers.
Ms. Malik said that the acid sold at retail outlets is predominantly used to clean toilets and choked sewers, but “there are viable alternatives available for these tasks”. On the High Court’s call for stricter enforcement of norms, she countered that such efforts over the years have proven to be inadequate.
“The number of acid attacks speaks for itself,” she told The Hindu, adding that there was little to no effort from governments to sensitise the public.
“I will certainly appeal the verdict,” said Ms. Malik, who runs Brave Souls Foundation, an NGO that provides free shelter, legal aid, and surgeries for acid attack survivors.
After she had acid thrown on her face in 2019, Rashmi, 25, underwent multiple surgeries, each costing over ₹6 lakh. “We had the expectation of a more stringent directive from the High Court, but it was not met,” said the survivor from Haryana, who was helped by Ms. Malik’s NGO.
Reshma Qureshi, a survivor from Mumbai, said, “The authorities must recognise that half-hearted attempts could profoundly affect someone’s life.”