For over a year now, the Punjab government is struggling to take a significant step that could check acid attacks. Such attacks using the highly corrosive substances have become far too common lately, and the Supreme Court had, in February last year, directed all the states to regulate the sale of acids.
But in Punjab, the file for action has been shuttling from one department to another. The question being debated is: who can control the sale of acid, and how?
After the SC directions, the state chief secretary first wrote to the additional director general of police (ADGP), crime, on March 3, 2011, to take necessary steps. At this, the home department, the umbrella department for the police, wrote to the food and civil supplies department, which replied in April last year that that the regulation of acid sale could be done by the industries department. The secretary (food and civil supplies), DS Grewal, had argued that since acid did not come under the Essential Commodities Act, it was under the jurisdiction of the industries department.
As HT approached the principal secretary for industries, CS Talwar, he claimed to have not received any such communiqué. He added, "Even if it (acid) does not come under the Essential Commodities Act, we (the industries department) cannot ban the sale of any commodity that is freely available in the market."
Meanwhile, the home department has again written again to the food and supplies department, even though no move has been initiated to determine how the sale can be regulated. When contacted, home secretary DS Bains claimed that necessary amendments would be made to bring acid under the civil supplies department's jurisdiction. "Every bottle of acid will be accounted for, with a proper serial number, and will be supplied for a specific purpose," he said. But when asked how much longer it would take, Bains could just say, "We are working on it". He acknowledged that nothing has so far been drafted.
After its February 2011 orders for regulating acid sale, the Supreme Court had gone on to state in another order dated August 31 this year that: "… one of the matters of concern in regard to acid attack is free availability of acids". It had then directed the union government and all states to make appropriate provisions for regulation of sale of acid.
As nothing moved in many states, the Supreme Court again expressed concern on September 25 this year, and issued directions to the states that had not complied.
The state of Sikkim, in an exemplary move, has already amended the 'Sikkim Trade Licence and Miscellaneous Provision Rules 2011' to keep a tab on the sale of acid.
AMENDMENT IN LAW
The union government proposes to make special provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) - through insertion of sections 326A and 326B -- for making 'acid attack' a specific offence. The proposal may come up in the next Parliament session. The matter had reached the Supreme Court via a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2006 by Delhi girl, Laxmi, herself an acid attack victim, who had demanded necessary changed in the IPC, Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for dealing with the offence.