Laxmi vs Union Of India & Ors on 10 April, 2015

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

Citation 2014 SCC 4 427

Introduction

“I lost my childhood that day. I stopped going to school and lost all my friends. People stared at me and mocked me. Neighbors and relatives blamed me, and said I must have done something wrong to earn the man’s wrath. My only fault was I refused the man’s proposal.”

                                                                   

  -Words by acid victim Laxmi. 

India has always been regarded as the capital for offences against women. Evidently, reporting the highest number of acid attack cases including other offences including sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, etc. Acid attack is one of the most heinous and growing crimes against women in society. It has become a powerful tool in the hands of a male-dominated society to threat the safe existence of women. By the reason of the absence of specific laws and due to the delay in the court proceedings the victims were subject to a lot of trauma. The incident of an acid attack has been a proliferating phenomenon in India where the majority of the victims of the offence constitute women. Various social factors such as the weakness of women in such a male-dominated country like India attributed can be attributed to the said offence. Acid, in India, is easily available and is a low-priced and ideal tool for the perpetrator. 

One such acid attack victim raised this matter in front of the Apex Court. She had to confront numerous difficulties, but she overcame all those obstacles and was rewarded for her efforts when the Supreme Court took the matter with sobriety and issued several guidelines. The current state of affairs evinces the effective implementation of the guidelines.  The case scrutinized here happens to be a landmark case in the legal history of India. This case is about a woman named Laxmi, who issued a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which issued guidelines for the betterment of the Acid Attack Survivor. The verdict pronounced by the Hon’ble Supreme imposed restrictions on the sale of Acid and provided for victim compensation.

Facts of the Case

This PIL was filed by Laxmi, an acid attack survivor filed a PIL in 2006, a minor of 15 years when she was attacked by three men on the busy streets of New Delhi only because she refused to marry a man named Naeem Khan aka Guddu. Born in a middle-class family, she chose to support her parents by working as a part-time salesperson at a book depot. On the fateful day of April 22, 2005, two acquaintances stopped her and threw acid on her. The public present there heard her screams, but not a soul offered any help. Thereafter, she was escorted to the Ram Manohar Lohiya Hospital, wherein the first aid treatment was provided to her. As specified in the medical report, the victim had sustained approximately 25% acid burns all over the face, eyes, chest area and forearm. Subsequently, she regained her consciousness and stated to the police that the culprits were Naeem Khan (Guddu) and Rakhi (his sister in law). 

The Sessions Court in Delhi, convicted the accused and co-accused under Section 307 (Attempt to Murder) read with section 120B (Punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

The accused then filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court, questioning the decision given by the Sessions Court. The High Court upheld the decision pronounced by the lower court. Additionally, directed the accused to pay a sum of rupees 3 lakhs as compensation to the victim under Section 357(1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Code. In 2013, Laxmi, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court to bring light to the woes and sufferings of the acid attack victims. There have been multiple reasons for acid attack, however, refusal of marriage, rejection of sexual advances, dowry disagreements form the common causes. The principal cause of filing the PIL was to ensure a complete ban on the sale of acid, stricter laws regarding acid attacks and an enhanced compensation scheme.

Issues raised

  • For making considerable amendment in the Indian Penal Code,1860 and Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 relating to Acid attacks in such a way as the Court deems fit and recognize “acid attack” as a separate and grave offence.
  • A complete ban on the sale of acid and its various forms also such acids in the open market.
  • Prosecution of acid attackers, in addition to the rehabilitation of acid attack victim which included treatment along with compensation.

Contentions

Petitioner

1. The petitioner raised her voice against the easily procurable acids in the markets.

2. She further stated how her acid attack had caused her mental, emotional and physical agony.

3. She requested rehabilitation from the government.

4. She put forward the requirement for stern and stringent laws against people who committed such heinous crimes because the prevaling laws treated acid attacks as a generalized happening rather than giving it a separate section and requested free treatment and compensation for the acid attack survivors.

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Respondent

1. The learned solicitor general asserted the Central Government’s intention to implement the model.

2. The model rules consisted of the regulation of the sale of acid various other acidic substances envisaged under the Poisons Act, 1919 to both state governments and union territories which would be followed within a week of pronouncement of the judgement.

3. They further held that the model rules would be including, inter alia, the type and form of acids (liquid and crystallized) which are permitted to stored and sold, issue of licenses, gain by individuals, hospitals, industries, Education or research institutions, governmental departments and public sector department undertakings. 

4. The Hon’ble counsel for the state of Tamil Nadu stated that within two months from the day, proper and strict laws will be regularized to keep in check the sale of acid and other similar substances.

5. The state and union territories governments held that they will make the offences under the poison act 1919 completely non-cognizable and non-bailable.

Judgement

The Hon’ble Supreme Court took a quick step to regulate the trading of acid by issuing the subsequent guidelines:

Guidelines for the seller and the buyer:

1.Sale of acid to a person below 18 years of age is strictly is prohibited. Additionally, the buyer is required to produce a photo identity card and disclose the purpose for such a purchase. The seller is obligated to forward the same to the nearest police station within 3 days.

2.The seller has to put forward the report of the stocks of acid to the Sub-divisional magistrate within fifteen days.

3.The Sub-divisional magistrate has the authority to confiscate the unreported stocks of acid and impose the fine to the extent of 50,000 rupees.

Guidelines for research, academic and other institutional purposes:

1.The usage, intent, quantum and other credentials have to be recorded in a register which shall be put forward to the Sub-divisional magistrate.

2.An authorized person should be present for the safe handling of acid.

3.The storage of acid is subject to the scrutiny of a person. Additionally, the Entry and exit of every person have to be recorded.

Taking consideration of the second pleading, the following sections were inserted in the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and India Evidence Act through the Criminal Amendment Act, 2013

•Indian Penal Code:

Section 320A and 320B prescribes the punishment for acid attacks and attempt to acid attack respectively.

Section 320A: Imprisonment for 10 years which may extend to life imprisonment along with a fine.

Section 326B: Imprisonment for five years which may extend to 7 years along with the liability to pay a fine.

Criminal Procedure Code:

The sections inserted under Cr.P.C are mentioned hereunder:

Section 357A sub-section (1) provides the obligation of the State Government in collaboration with the Central Government to prepare a compensation scheme for the victim or his dependents.

As per sub-section (2), the quantum of compensation to be given to the victim under the scheme shall be decided on basis of the recommendation of the Court, the State or District Legal Services Authority. Under sub-section (3), if the Court is of the opinion that the compensation was given under section 357 of Cr.P.C is inadequate or when the offender is acquitted, then the court may make recommendations regarding the same. Sub-section (4), the victim or his dependents can move the application to the State or District Legal Services Authority for awarding compensation, in the event of non-identification of the offender. As per sub-section (5), on receipt of the application under sub-section (4), the State or District Legal Services Authority has to conduct an enquiry within two months from the date of application and award appropriate compensation to the victim. Sub-section (6) the State or District Legal Services Authority can also pass the order of providing free medical aid to the victim on account of the certificate issued by the officer in charge of the police station or the concerned magistrate.

Section 357B brings forth the fact that the compensation payable by the State Government under section 357A shall be in addition to the payment of fine to the victim provided under section 326A or section 376D of the Indian Penal Code.

•Indian Evidence Act:

As per Section 114B, whoever throws or administers acid to another person, shall be said to have such intention and knowledge as is likely to have under section 326A of IPC. The Apex Court made the following provisions:

1.The victim has to be awarded a minimum compensation of 3 lakh rupees.

2.The Hospitals ought not to refuse treatment of the victim by reason of lack of specialized facilities. 

3.The State Governments and the Central Government shall make an endeavour to bring private hospitals for following the guidelines issued under the matter.

4.The victim has to be provided with immediate First Aid treatment.

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5.No hospital or clinic can deny treatment to the victim and if it does so, shall be made liable under section 357C of Cr. P.C.

6.The victim shall be provided with a medical certificate by a hospital where the initial treatment was provided and the same can be used by the victim for further treatment.

Analysis

The biggest hurdle required to overcome after this case was the absence of law exclusively dealing with a victim of acid attack. Several orders were passed by the Supreme Court for the improvement in the condition of acid assault survivors. Earlier the appointed authorities used to treat the victims indifferently and dismiss the case, the disposition towards the survivors of acid assault was general, the adjudicators did not comprehend the degree of torment the young ladies experience in the wake of being a victim to such assault. It was this case owing to which legal executive took a gander at the victims of acid attack in an alternate manner and to see how profound the injury is and to achieve a few rules for their advancement as a victim. 

The outcome of this case occasioned to issuance of several guidelines this regard. Several meetings were convened under the scrutiny of the secretary in the service of Home Affairs, Government of India and the secretary in the Ministry of Health and family, Government of India with this central secretary, pursuant to which a handful of information was gathered from everywhere India regarding acid attack and similar affidavits were documented in the court. After compilation of all the data it was discovered that the maximum number of acid assault cases were in the conditions of Uttar Pradesh Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat where in Delhi being the only union territory where such cases were in lead.  Accordingly, after the examination on the quantity of cases in various pieces of India, new alterations were presented in Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 in which sections 357 – A was embedded to offer compensation to the victims or their wards. Alterations were likewise achieved in the Indian Penal Code 1860 where two new sections were inserted i.e. Section 326-A and 326-B for penalising acid attack offenders.

Every part belonging to the Indian territory were informed by way of notifications about the victim compensation schemes and the amendments which had been brought about in the criminal laws. Amendments of Cr.P.C prompted the addition of section 357C whereby all emergency clinics whether private or public run by local, state government or nearby bodies ought to give the medical aid or clinical therapy liberated from cost. High Court coordinated for the base pay of 3,00,000/ – to each acid assault victim. The state government banned the sale of acid and labelled acid as “poison” and which would not be easily accessible. Victim compensation scheme was likewise initiated by the public authority- government with the help of legal service authority so that each acid attack casualty could take the advantage of this. No clinic/medical centre/hospital could deny for treatment of acid attack casualty and in case the provisions were not abided by, the casualty is entitled to take a further suitable legitimate action.  The PIL documented by Laxmi changed the course of acid attacks and its punishments in India while additionally giving different victims and survivors a chance to showcase their sufferings and receive compensation and seek appropriate justice. Laxmi, today is busy influencing nations \with her inspirational story and her irreplaceable grit and determination to seek justice through all odds which led to the reformation of a law in the interest of women. Laxmi and her case show us how these derisive and resentful crimes are born out of petty issues and the dire need to put severe and strict solutions for controlling these crimes. 

Conclusion

Laxmi is an active member of “Chaanv” a non-governmental organization that provides employment to acid attack survivors. She has been the awardee of the “International Women of Courage Award” and “International Women Empowerment Award” in 2014 and 2019 respectively. Prior to this case, acid attacks were categorized among the general category of offences which caused “grievous hurt”. By the virtue of The Criminal Amendment Act of 2013, several new guidelines were passed after the recommendations made by the Justice J.S Verma commission, and consequently, acid violence was recognized as a distinct offence which is now punishable with life imprisonment and fine. Until the pronouncement of this landmark verdict by the Supreme court, there was no prohibition on sale of acid on counters and the compensation provided by the government was not adequate. An acid attack survivor has prolonged effect of such an act and their lives becomes are upturned; the survivors become traumatized. They are occasionally subject to ill treatment owing to appearance and disabilities after the attack. Hence, this case has played a crucial role for the for the safety of public and a tool for victims to counter travesty of justice.

References

[1] https://www.ourlegalworld.com/laxmi-vs-union-of-india-and-ors-acid-attack-our-legal-world/

[2] http://lawtimesjournal.in/laxmi-vs-union-of-india-ors/

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