Laxmi v. Union of India
Ritu Amarnarayan, Student, School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore.
Acid attack is a form of violent assault wherein it is ‘defined as an act of throwing acid or a similarly corrosive substance on the body of another.’ In this case, the petitioner (Laxmi) who was a minor (15 years) was attacked by three men out of which a man named Nadeem Khan threw acid on her face and said he did it out of spite as the petitioner had refused to marry him. Hence, this incident leads to the need for considering certain amendments regarding the acid attacks in the Indian Penal code, 1860, as well as the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. This also shed light on the detrimental characteristics of the sale of acids, and it is various forms, and contemplated on the ban of the same and not only did this emphasis on the prosecution of the accused but also thought of giving the help needed to the acid attack victims through rehabilitation and compensation. It can also be noted that this case set a milestone, and all the cases that were not reported earlier came into light after this case, though the main question here is whether or not the amendments brought in were effective in reducing the acid attacks in India.
This case set the fight against the horrific crime by detailing the measures to control the sale of acid over the counter, the medical compensation provided to the survivor and the terms of punishment to the accused. A Public Interest Litigation was brought about by the petitioner (Laxmi) in the Supreme court, which issued guidelines for the betterment of the acid attack survivors. Earlier to this case, acid attacks were categorized in the general category of offences that caused ‘grievous hurt’. However, after the Criminal Amendment Act, 2013, which was passed due to the Delhi gang-rape case (Nirbhaya case) made changes in the Criminal Procedure Code,1973 (Section 357A talking about compensation) and the Indian Penal Code,1860 with the assistance of the Justice J S Verma Committee, to make the acid attacks a ‘distinct offence’ and the minimum imprisonment for such an offence was ten years. However, the Judge has the discretionary power to increase it to a life term. There was also another landmark case known as Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India which highlighted on the deficiency and inadequacy of the authoritative measures to manage acid attacks even after the amendments which were brought in by the earlier case.
The outcome of the Public Interest Litigation which was brought about by the petitioner (Laxmi), led to several orders being passed by the Supreme Court of India for the betterment of the acid attack survivors, by directing the regulation of acid in the State’s and the Union Territories. Along with this, the Court also addressed the problem of compensation in Section 357A of the Criminal Procedure Code,1973 which provides for the preparation of a scheme for providing funds for compensation to the victim or any dependents, if they have suffered loss or injury as a result of this crime and those who require rehabilitation for the same. Not only were the amendments made in the Criminal Procedure Code,1973 but also in the Indian Penal Code,1860 by including Sections 326A (Punishment for acid attacks) and 326B (Punishment for attempted acid attacks) which deal specifically with acid attacks. The Supreme Court also directed the minimum compensation for acid attacks to be Rs 3,00,000 per victim and ordered for providing the necessary medical assistance to them with free medical treatment. The Apex Court also advised the State governments to ban the sale of acid and to declare ‘acid’ as a poison under the Poison’s Act, 1919.
In this case, the court's direction towards the aspect of compensation was relevant, though the compensation amount was not adequate, especially when the survivor has suffered severe injuries on the body. Hence keeping this in mind there was a change brought about in this aspect and same was implemented in the case of Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India wherein the court had directed the Bihar Government to compensate the survivor with Rs 10,00,000 considering the injuries caused to the survivor. Along with this, the court in this case also directed the State and the Union Territories to take appropriate measures in the inclusion of their names in the disability test. This direction given by the court in Parivartan Kendra v. Union of Indiawill also help the acid attack survivors gain employment by the state under the reserved category. Hence, as seen above there were adequate amendments brought about by the court in the Parivartan case, wherein the court carefully looked into the welfare and the progress of the survivors along with providing them with the adequate means to progress.
In Laxmi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court did lay down a foundation for the betterment of the acid attack survivors and brought in the rehabilitation and the compensation schemes, but the State Governments failed in implementing the same. Moreover, the compensation amount differed in a range from state to state, and it can also be said that not all the state governments have set up a victim compensation scheme. Not just this, but the scope of the orders passed and laid down by the court, in this case, is minimal and does not talk about the details, let us take Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code that was inserted by the court in this case, this section is narrow in scope as it does not cover about the various kinds of injuries that are inflicted because of an acid attack and does not cover the act of administering the acid attack and also does not specify to whom the fines should be awarded, and not just this, it also does not punish the intentional act of throwing acid on another person, if there have been no injuries. Though these provisions lay down the base for the protection of the acid survivors, it does not delve into its depth.
One of the most crippling issues is the implementation of the laws, as mentioned above. Even though the foundational guidelines were given to the state governments to provide Rs 3,00,00 for the medical treatment and the rehabilitation of the victim and to set up a victim compensation scheme, the same was not complied to by all the state governments. It is not just the faulty laws that are to be blamed, but it also the lack of implementation, which is to be looked upon. Moreover, though it was pleaded in the Supreme Court to ban the open sale of acids, the same was not followed by all the parts of India; instead, the court came up with regulations as to who could buy the acid and made it necessary to take a note of the people who bought it and the reason to do so along with a government ID. The step which the Court took here was a curative measure, but it still does not go on to explain as to how this would reduce the acid attacks in India, and over the years it has clearly proven to be inefficient and not only this, even if this measure was efficient, there is no determined way to prove it, and it is very unclear. This can be seen in the statistics, which shows as to how the acid attacks increased 9% to 222 in 2015 from 203 in 2014, and these are just the ones that have been reported.
‘Shops on Aishbagh Waterworks Road sell the dangerous liquid without asking for the identity cards or purpose of purchase. The acid is available in a general store of Natkhera Alambagh which sells it without confirming the identity of the buyer.’ This clearly shows the poor implementation of the laws and the negligence on the part of the government to do so. As the orders issued by the Supreme Court were not implemented, later on, the court decided to lay down a new set of guidelines which gave much clarity than the ones that were put down in the previous case of Laxmi v Union of India. This also comes to show the faulty laws that were passed earlier which basically did allow any person to purchase the acid if they showed a government ID and gave the purpose for the same, but this could have been easily manipulated and told, as there are no checks held for the shops or places that sell acid to the customer. Hence there is no proper determination of people who actually purchase this, and it also does not make the sellers accountable to the authority, which means that there is no proper check and balance. Hence, keeping this in mind, the court later laid down a new set of guidelines which was mentioned earlier wherein the court said that the acid could not be sold to any individuals below 18 years of age and that the seller will have to submit the documents of the person that purchases the acid within three days of its purchase in the police station. Though the court has put forth these regulations, it still proves to be not efficient in reducing the acid attack cases mainly because of its faulty implementation. The two essential attributes required to curb this is strict law enforcement and a vigilant civil society that requires accountability.
In order to curb this horrific crime, the state should not only enact legislation and policies to address the acid violence but also ensure for effective implementation of those laws and policies. For the better implementation of such laws and policies, the government should conduct appropriate investigations of acid attacks, protect the victims from threats that could undermine those investigations, as well as prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the acid attack, and make the punishment lethal so that it gives an incentive for the person to combat or avoid committing this crime. The compensation and rehabilitation schemes though have been put down in paper, do not really seem to work in reality, which should really be put in form by the governments and this can be done only if the government will be held liable and accountable for their faulty implementation. Strict action must be taken against the governments that ignore to implement these schemes for the betterment of the acid attack survivors. It can also be said that the acid attacks occur at an increased rate near the areas where the acid is used widely for industrial or other purposes. Hence it would be practical and more helpful when the companies also take due diligence to minimize the adverse human rights impacts on their business activities. Companies can also contribute to combating acid attacks by adopting policies for the safekeeping and proper labelling of acid by supporting the government to regulate the proper use and disposal of acid.
The neighbouring country of Bangladesh, prior to 2002 witnessed many acid attacks in the country. It reduced once the Acid Crime Control Act was passed which imposes the death penalty on the accused if he or she is held guilty for the same, this country brought in strict regulation of the acid sales which brought down the proportion of crimes initially. ‘The government there also enacted laws that stipulated a deadline for investigation and the court hearing; it also set up acid prevention tribunals to deal with such attacks.’ Hence, through these few measures, it is seen as to how this country has been prosperous in reducing the number of cases. This is one of the very few countries which succeeded in reducing this horrific crime. Meanwhile, countries like Cambodia who have enacted the Acid Control Law in 2011 and similar policies and laws to curb it has not really proven to be effective and is also said that the cases of acid attack are really high on men as well as on women in Cambodia. On the other hand, Uganda though witnesses a high number of acid attack cases, it does not have a specific law to stop these acid attacks though it has been criminalized under Chapter 120 of the Penal Code Act, 1950.
These attacks can be reduced in our country through the adoption of vigilant measures as followed by Bangladesh, and by increasing the sentence and making the punishment more stringent so that it creates a fear in the mind of people before they actually think of committing this crime. Though the significant impact in our country can be brought about by changing the mindset of the people, and by educating them to respect other’s decision by not having a thought or attitude of ‘Teach him/her a lesson’ kind of mindset. It is not something that is hidden that the per cent of women being the victims of this are higher than men, our country has remained a patriarchal society for a very long time though things are taking a turn now and women and men are considered equal, though this looks good in theory the reality of the results show the same which clearly indicate that men have to learn to respect a women’s decision and stop treating them as objects, and when the word ‘men’ is being used here, it does not mean to generalize all of them, but yes, there are a few men who bring disgrace to the entire gender. Hence, education and spreading awareness among all the people, even in rural areas, is one of the efficient solutions to curb this problem from its very roots.
Acid attacks are the most pernicious kind of violence that is reported to and is found to be gender-specific in India. Though there have been cases reported in various other countries about this horrific crime, there are few countries like Bangladesh wherein the cases are reducing and other countries like Uganda and India wherein the cases are increasing, and there clearly is a long way to go for the effective implementation of the provisions and policies. The sections 320, 322, 325, 326, and 307 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 does not fulfil the profundity that is required for these offences, and moreover the term ‘acid attack’ was not defined anywhere, and there has been a lacuna in the criminal procedure code as well which has been mentioned earlier. Another vital aspect to be looked into here is the rehabilitation scheme to provide for better job opportunities and training, along with adequate compensation and medical treatment to be provided to them, which is not taken as an essential sphere as many governments are yet to set up the victim compensation scheme. The Government should also take specific corrective measures on the sale of acid over the counter, and if the buyer or the seller fails to follow the rules put forth by the court then they should be charged with severe imprisonment. Another useful measure would be greater awareness raised about this and more sensitive and mature handling of these cases by the media. Also, the government should impose a severe punishment, and trial procedure must be minimized because in India a lot of the accused persons take advantage of a lengthy trial procedure.
 Acid Attack Case, The Times of India (25/07/2020), available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/acid-attack-case, last seen on 04/08/2020.  Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India, (2016) 3 SCC 571.  Laxmi v. Union of India, (2014) 4 SCC 427.  6 years after SC ban, acid still being sold openly, Hindustan Times (10/01/2020), available at https://m.hindustantimes.com/cities/6-years-after-sc-ban-acid-still-being-sold-openly/story-ccCiqPbMbL5a4iDhYVtYAN.html, last seen on 08/08/2020.  Corrosive Crime: The Supreme Court’s ruling on curbing acid attacks on women is only the first step, 48 (33) Economic and Political Weekly, 9 (2013), available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/23528077 , last seen on 09/08/2020.