The Karnataka High Court in southern India has orally indicated that it would recommend a series of measures to the state Government to "control" the sale of acids in Karnataka.
The High Court also indicated that the term "acid" as is now defined by law would have to be reinterpreted to include certain category of detergents that are more "powerful" than acids and are also more corrosive in nature.
These substances, it said, are easily available across the counter in scores of shops and business establishments across the State.
A Division Bench comprising Justice S.R. Bannurmath and Justice Subas B. Adi made the observations while dealing with a case relating to acid victims. The Bench is hearing a suo motu case of rehabilitation of acid attack victims and also a public interest litigation (PIL) petition on the same issue.
The Bench recalled that it had earlier instructed the State Public Prosecutor (SPP) to come up with a proposal detailing the measures that the police could take to check the open sale of acids.
It suggested to the State Government that records of persons who purchased acids could be maintained.
The quantum of acid, too, could be limited if the purchaser indicated his need, said the Bench.
When acid is thrown on a person, the results can be horrifying. Nitric, hydrochloric, or sulfuric acids all have a catastrophic effect on human flesh.
It causes the skin tissue to melt, often exposing the bones below the flesh, sometimes even dissolving the bone. When acid attacks the eyes, it damages these vital organs permanently. Many acid attack survivors have lost the use of one or both eyes. The victim is traumatized physically, psychologically and socially.
Since the last eight years, sixty women in Karnataka have been victimized by acid, thrown at them by spurned lovers or annoyed spouses. Of them, four have succumbed to injuries.
The most recent case to hit the headlines was that of Hina Fathima, the 22-year-old housewife from Mysore. She was reportedly made to drink sulphuric acid mixed with liquor, by her husband Fairoz. She died in August last.
The manufacture and sale of the acid, under the Poisons Act, 1919 is controlled. Sulphuric acid, along with six other acids, can be sold only to licensed dealers. "But they can sell it to anyone. There's no regulation on that," says Drug Controller, Government of Karnataka, and Sripathi Rao. He adds that all the seven acids mentioned under the Poisons Act are highly corrosive and their sale should be regulated to check their misuse.
The easy availability of acid can be blamed for the increase in attacks on vulnerable women.
Acid attacks are registered under Sections 320 (causing grievous hurt using chemicals) and 326(causing grievous hurt) and Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
"The accused in acid attacks should be booked under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC and should be given equivalent punishment," said State Women's Commission chairperson Pramila Nesargi.
All acid attack victims in India so far are women in their early age (between 16 and 25), and were attacked by men known to them. Most attacks took place in public places or at home. Medical treatment is prohibitively expensive.