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2013 acid attack: Bombay HC changes death sentence to life

A special woman’s court found Panwar guilty and sentenced him to death in 2016. This was the first case of death penalty for an acid attack.

mumbai Updated: Jun 13, 2019 08:30 IST
K A Y Dodhiya
K A Y Dodhiya
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
2013 acid attack,bombay high court,ankur panwar
Preeti Rathi acid attack accused Ankur Panwar outside Arthur road jail and was produced at Session court in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, September 8, 2016.(HT photo)

The Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of Ankur Panwar, who was convicted in 2016 for attacking nurse Preeti Rathi with sulphuric acid, to life imprisonment.

Rathi died of the injuries she sustained in the incident. The HC bench of justices B P Dharmadhikari and P D Naik said it did not find that the case could be termed rarest of rare and that there was nothing to indicate Panwar was beyond reformation and rehabilitation. However, the bench upheld the conviction under sections 302 (murder) and 326 B (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) of the Indian Penal Code.

On May 2, 2013, Panwar, 25, had flung sulphuric acid on Rathi, 23, as she alighted the Garib Rath Express at Bandra Terminus. Rathi had come from Delhi to Mumbai, to work as a nurse at the Navy hospital in Colaba. At the time, her attacker was unknown, but the police later identified Panwar as the accused. Their investigation showed Panwar was a neighbour of Rathi’s and had been stalking her. Rathi succumbed to her injuries on June 1.

A special woman’s court found Panwar guilty and sentenced him to death in 2016. This was the first case of death penalty for an acid attack. Hearing on the confirmation case filed by the state to confirm the death sentence and the appeal filed by Panwar’s legal counsel against the death sentence started on March 25 this year. Panwar’s lawyers, advocates Trideep Pais and Vijay Hiremath, argued that the police had failed to conduct a proper investigation and that Panwar had been wrongly implicated.

They also pointed out that the police had arrested another man for the crime, who was discharged without following due procedure of an identification parade. Finally, they pleaded that the death was not merely due to the acid attack, but could have been for other reasons.

Special public prosecutor A M Chimalker argued that in addition to it being a horrendous crime that deserved the death sentence, the evidence against Panwar included entries in a register owned by the shop owner who had sold the sulphuric acid to Panwar. Chimalker also pointed out that Panwar had sustained injuries on his hand and chest in the process of flinging the acid on Rathi.

Arguments concluded on March 28 and on Wednesday, the bench concluded that though Panwar was guilty, he was not deserving of the death penalty. One reason for this, according to the verdict, is that Panwar was young when he committed the crime and not beyond the scope of rehabilitation.

In the 69-paged judgement, the bench looked at the statements given as well as other judgements dealing with death sentences. The verdict said, “The Trial Court relied on collective conscience to hold that the appellant deserves death penalty. The Trial Court has also relied on the crime test to hold that the case is rarest of rare while ignoring the criminal test, as laid down in several decisions referred to hereinabove. There was nothing to indicate that the accused was beyond reformation and rehabilitation, as mandated in the case of Bachan Singh and other cases. The mitigating circumstance that the accused was of young age at the time of commission of offence, was ignored by the Trial Court. In the circumstances, although conviction of the accused can be confirmed, the death sentence will have to be commuted to imprisonment for life.”

First Published: Jun 13, 2019 00:22 IST