What is an acid attack?

The crime of acid attack is also known as “acid throwing.” In an acid attack, acid is thrown over someone’s face in order to cause a burn on the face. This is because the face is the part of the body that is usually not covered. Most of the time, the motive behind throwing acid is to torture, maim, disfigure, or kill the victim. An acid attack is legally defined under Section 326A IPC. It provides that any person who causes injury to the victim, either permanently or partially, by throwing acid is guilty of an acid attack. The injury due to an acid attack is usually deformity of the victim’s body or maiming. Maiming is an injury to a body part that is so harsh that the affected organ can no longer be used. Disfigurement, disablement, and the burning of body parts are also some of the injuries caused by acid attacks. 

Penal provisions dealing with acid attacks in India

Until 2013, acid attacks were not even considered distinct offences under Indian law and were covered under general laws such as punishment for grievous hurt and attempt to murder. But with changing times and increasing cases of acid attacks, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 was passed, which changed the situation in India regarding acid attack laws. Sections 326A and 326B were added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860. These are special provisions for acid attack cases. 

Compensation for acid attack victims

Based on Supreme Court directions, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed states-

  • To ensure that the victims of acid attacks must receive compensation of at least Rs. 3 lakhs (Rs 1 lakh within 15 days and the rest Rs 2 lakhs within 2 months thereafter) from their respective state government/ Union Territory.
  • To make such provisions which are needed to provide treatment to acid attack victims for free in any hospital whether it is public or private.
  • To set aside 1-2 beds in private hospitals for the treatment of vulnerable acid attack victims who might get discriminated against by hospitals owing to their background.
  • To extend social integration programmes for the victims, which might be supported by NGOs to meet victims’ rehabilitative needs.

NALSA (Legal Services to Victims of acid attacks) Scheme, 2016

The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The act’s preamble emphasises that legal services authorities are concerned with the weaker segments of society and have an obligation on them to ensure that no opportunity for achieving justice is denied. The Legal Services to Victims of Acid Attacks Scheme was launched in 2016.

Legal Services Clinic

Legal Services Clinics have been set up under the Legal Services Authority (Legal Services Clinics) Regulations, 2011. These regulations will regulate the functioning, records of maintenance, infrastructural facilities, etc., of these clinics. State Legal Services Authorities must set up these clinics in the hospitals where specialized facilities for acid attack victims are available, such as treatment for burns in acid attack victims. These clinics will assign lawyers who will communicate with the victims on a regular basis and help secure proper treatment for the victims.

Lakshmi v. Union of India (2015)

Lakshmi who was only 16 years old when she was attacked with acid. This attack was motivated by a refusal to accept a marriage proposal. In 2006 she filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India, demanding not only compensation but also the development of new laws and the amendment of current laws in India connected to acid attacks. She requested a complete ban on the sale of acids to common people in markets.

The Supreme Court ruled the case in her favour and directed the Central and State governments to draft legislation on this subject after adequate thought and discussion.

As a result of this important judgement, the Supreme Court completely banned the counter sale of chemicals unless the seller kept a record of the buyer’s addresses and other details, as well as the amount. Dealers can now only sell the chemical after being shown a government-issued photo ID and stating the reason for the purchase. Many steps were taken such as regulation of acid supply, use of acids and rehabilitation of women victims to prevent acid attacks. These steps were taken by passing the Acid Attack and Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims Bill, 2017.  

The case law of State of Maharashtra v. Ankur Panwar (2019) concerns a 23-year-old nurse who worked at a Mumbai hospital. The accused approached her for marriage, but she declined because she wanted to advance her career. He couldn’t take the rejection any longer and threw acid at her when she was on the train. She drank a few drops by accident and died as a result. She was admitted to the hospital for a month, but she died. It should be noted that, as it was found to be a particularly exceptional case, it was heard by a Special Court presided over by a female judge, Justice A.S. Shinde. She was surprised that the acid attack was so heinous that the victim died as a result of it. Given the nature of the offence committed, the court felt a deterrent sentence for the accused was necessary in this case. The court sentenced the culprit to death and levied a Rs 5000 fine on the offender which was to be paid to the victim’s parents.

Adv. Khanak Sharma (D/1710/2023)

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