The more things change, the more they stay the same. Almost one and a half years after a Supreme Court Bench acknowledged the suffering of victims of acid attacks and imposed restrictions on the sale of acid and compensation to victims, the court had to step in again in February to remind the Union government that it has failed to implement the court’s directives in letter and spirit.
Expressing its concern over the improper rehabilitation of victims of acid attacks, the court directed the Centre to apprise it of steps taken to provide free treatment to those who have suffered the ‘heinous crime’. The situation, as the Centre must have found out, is not exactly rosy: Acid is still freely available and most states have not done enough to regulate its sale and rehabilitate the victims.
The only difference is that earlier concentrated acid was sold in glass bottles but now, thanks to awareness and fear of consequences, it is being sold after dilution. This is how things are in cities but in smaller towns, acid is still available freely in shops. The Criminal Amendment Act of 2013, passed in the aftermath of recommendations made by the Justice JS Verma commission following the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in December 2012, recognised acid violence as a separate offence that now carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a fine.
Fortunately, the Union government has now decided to step in and assume a leadership role vis-à-vis the states for acid attack victims. Home secretary LC Goyal and health secretary BP Sharma have convened a meeting this week on steps being taken for rehabilitation and ensuring free medical attention for acid attack victims.
This is a welcome development because most states themselves are inept at implementing the ban on the sale of acid and have no structure to ensure the rehabilitation of acid attack victims. The attitude of the states only shows that mere legislation — no matter how strong it is — is not enough to change the present state of affairs. It needs some real tough handling — and the Centre should flex its muscles to ensure that states do their part of the job without further delay.