Acid attacks: The legal angle

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

“True Freedom is understanding that we have a choice in who and what we allow to have power over us”

  • Meryl Streep

Human Rights are requisite for any individual’s life and forms the basic part of living. They are inalienable and are inherently entitled to every human being.  They include right to life and liberty, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of choice, and many more. Everyone is entitled to them without any bias.

Throwing of acid is one of the most distressful forms of crimes in the society. It is done not just against the body of an individual but against their freedom of choice and opinion. In Indian society, women are more vulnerable to acid attacks. The reason behind this is vengeance because of refusal of proposal, denial of dowry or other disputes. Such acid attacks are against the freedom of choice of a person and their basic human rights.

The problem lies not only with acid attacks but also with the behaviour against acid attack victims. They are treated as outcasts in the society and are always attached with a social stigma. This in turn leads to violation of their right to lead a life with liberty and basic human dignity. According to an acid attack survivor they are rejected in workplace and jobs because of their disfigured faces.

The consequences of these acid attacks affect the person and the family in many aspects. No one would ever be able to empathize with the pain of parent whose day would never go fine without seeing the face of his child. And now understand his grief that they have to face.

What is acid attack?

Acid Attack also known as Vitriolage is throwing of acid on the body of a person and disfiguring it. It is particularly thrown on the face of women. Acid attack is a very violent form of crime in which seeks to inflict physical as well a mental injury. It can be committed against any gender but it has a gender angle as well and most of the sufferers are women.

Acid attacks can lead to lifelong disfigurement of a body part which came in contact of the acid. It can also lead to burning of that certain area, damaging the tissues and sometimes even dissolving the bones.

Acid attacks are not completely recoverable. The intensity of damage depends upon the amount of acid thrown. In some cases the victim may not even survive. Those who survive have to undergo multiple surgeries to treat it. In instances of acid attack done on face , mainly eyes and lips are damaged and sometimes even ears and nose gets affected.

In acid attacks, the use of sulphuric acid, nitric acid and hydrochloric acid is common. The long term consequences of using this can lead to physical impairment and can affect the social life of a person. 

Legal provisions for acid attack:

Before 2013, acid attack was not regarded as a separate crime by the Indian Penal Code. Sections 326A and 326B were introduced into the Indian Penal Code by way of Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2013 providing punishment for acid attack and attempted acid attack.

The offence is registered under Indian Penal Code section 320, 322, 325, 326, and 307. In the case of Laxmi v UOI, the SC passed an order to regulate the sale of acid in shops. In this case, compensation was given to the victim of an acid attack for the first time.

According to Section 326A of Indian Penal Code, “Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life , and with fine

The Prevention of Acid Attacks and Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims Bill, 2017 has been enacted to provide for the prevention of acid attacks by restricting the sale, supply and use of acid or other steps and rehabilitation of women victims of acid attacks and related matter.

No person shall be allowed, according to this Bill to sell or supply acid to any person without documenting his identity, the quantity of acid and the reason for which the acid is to be used. With the issuance of government licenses, the purchase of acid can only be performed by people over the age of 18.

Compensation to the victims of acid attacks is also provided by the government under various schemes namely PMNRF, Central Government Victim Compensation Fund Scheme (CVCF), etc.

Why were the provisions introduced?

Acid attacks came in limelight with the case of Laxmi vs UOI. In 2005, Laxmi was attacked by a man whose marriage proposal was rejected by her. She was just 16 at that time. The two accused were sentenced to imprisonment of 10 and 7 years.

But Laxmi started a revolution and went to the apex court of India to regulate sale and distribution of acid. She also contended to provide guideline for rehabilitation of victims. This lead the Supreme Court and legislatures to make stringent laws and provisions against acid attacks in India.

A committee was also constituted in 2013 after the Nirbhaya case for suggesting reforms in the criminal Justice System dealing with matters of acid attacks. The J S Verma Committee discussed different crimes that prevail in society. This Committee focuses on an acid attack against women. They also made some recommendations about it.

Number of instances of acid attack

Very limited information on acid attacks in India is available but there is a growing trend in acid attack cases. Every year around 300 cases of acid attacks are being reported in India despite the existing laws. There used to be a time when acid was used for commercial purposes only and now it is used for destroying lives of people and that too in a cruel manner.

NRCB released a report in 2017 which stated that UP tops in case of acid attacks in India with 56 cases in 2017. A total of 244 cases were reported in the whole country. There are many unreported cases as well where victim dies with no information available about the same.

Apart from Laxmi’s case there were many cases which came into limelight and created sensations in the minds of people. The Supreme Court directed the state governments to look into these matters seriously and directed private hospitals to give good treatments to the victims in the case of Parivartan Kendra v UOI where two Bihar dalit girls were attacked by four men who threw acid on the girls’ face and bodies as they slept on their rooftops.

Conclusion

The plight in the Indian society is that we have become numb to everything. Things affect us for some time and then it gets vanished. The crime of acid attack is heinous and just regulating it with guidelines and laws won’t help. First of all we need more stringent laws to create deterrence in minds of people and then it essential to remove the social stigma attached to acid attack survivors.

Some time back, a cafe was opened in the city of Agra which was wholly managed by the survivors of acid attack. Reformers are also working towards providing a better future for acid attack victims. It becomes important to focus on the positive aspect and the changes that are taking place in the society but at the same time the growing figures of acid attacks cannot be ignored and there is a need for more competent and strong laws to put a stop on this heinous crime.

Author: Muskaan Jain from National Law University, Odisha.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

Analysis: Unauthorized colonies

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

On 26th November 2019, the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorized Colonies) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, to legally entrust the ownership rights to more than 40 lakh residents of 1731 unauthorized colonies.

This would entitle them the power of ownership or transfer or mortgage on the basis of Power of Attorney, Agreement to Sale, Will, possession letter and other documents including documents evidencing payment of consideration, which earlier did not convey any title in the property as held by the Supreme Court in the case of Suraj Lamp & Industries (P.) Ltd. v. State of Haryana.

Bill defines, “Unauthorized colony” as a colony comprising of a contiguous area, where no permission has been obtained for approval of layout plan or building plans and has been identified for regularization of such colony in pursuance to the notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority(DDA).

Generally, unauthorized colonies mean any part or parts of cities which are not regulated by the concerned authority as in Delhi by DDA or in Mumbai by Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority (MRERA), etc.

These unauthorized colonies are commonly known as Slums, Blighted or Shanty areas etc. in cities. A slum is too complex to define on the basis of any single parameter. Slums are a relative concept and vary from city to city or country to country. What is considered as a slum in one city can be regarded as adequate households in another city.

On the basis of common characteristics of slums, a slum household means a house in which a group of persons are living without one or more of the facilities, such as access to drinking water, hygienic sanitation, electricity supply, sufficient living area, and durability of housing, etc. or are living in illegal building structures or informal settlement. 24% of Indian urban population lives in slums. If such a large proportion of the population lives in slums, then it is necessary to know the reasons for establishment and growth of such slums.

Background:

Industrialization started in the mid-18th century in Europe, which had spread throughout the world. Industrialization not only changed the economy from agrarian economy to industrial economy but also impacted the social life of people.

Industrialization and urbanization goes hand in hand. Industries are generally situated near areas, where natural resources like water bodies, raw materials etc. are available which ultimately lead to the establishment of number of industries within a region.

When industrialization started, it provided job opportunities to masses at a large scale and people started migrating from rural region to region near established industries, and later on these industrial regions developed into urban societies.

This process of urbanization continues even in post-industrialization period and population of urban regions has been continuously increasing. But, the bye product of the process of industrialization is creation of two classes i.e., ‘have’ & ‘have not’ or ‘owner’ & ‘labor’. The gap between these classes has been expanding which has led to the exploitation of labor class.

Because of large influx of population to urban areas, these poor labor classes don’t have enough income for access of urban living standard which is comparatively much higher than rural areas. These poor were forced to live in the urban outskirts or in the marginal lands within the cities, which resulted in the establishment of slums. In contemporary period, some of the number of reasons for growth of slums in urban areas are as follows;

  • Migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of job opportunities;
  • Poverty;
  • Economic Inequalities;
  • Social Exclusion;
  • Urbanization;
  • Poor Housing Planning or Ill Planning of the City;
  • Use of Slum for Political Benefit.

Problems faced by residents of unauthorized colonies:

A developing or developed city expects that a large influx of people would continue to come and thus, it is necessary that a city must always be planned to accommodate such huge immigration of people.

The lack of such planning has disastrous consequences which lead to the establishment of unauthorized colonies. Various kinds of problems faced by residents of such colonies are as follows;

  • Lack of proper infrastructure & denial of access to civic amenities;
  • Lack of Ownership or Transfers or Mortgage rights;
  • Non-registration of properties by registering authority;
  • Lack of any title documents in respect of such properties;
  • Denial of credit facilities in respect of properties in unauthorized colonies by the banks and financial institutions;
  • Non-recognition of sale agreement or general Power of Attorney or Will transactions as “transfers” or “sales” and the above said transactions never treated as completed transfers or conveyances and treated as existing agreement of sale.

Not only the residents face such problems but the government also loses revenue as the stamp duty and registration charges on the amount mentioned in the conveyance deed are neither assessed nor being paid on the transfer of the ownership of the properties in unauthorized colonies through registered or un-registered Power of Attorney, Agreement to Sale, Will, possession letter and other documents including documents evidencing payment of consideration.

Process of legalization:

Procedure to apply for ownership rights starts from December 16, 2019. DDA would define and delineate the boundaries of unauthorized colonies and upload the map and boundaries on a DDA portal, which will be open for suggestions from the residents for 15 days from the date of uploading of maps and boundaries on the portal.

DDA has also established over 50 helpdesks to answer all the queries and to facilitate all necessary assistance to applicants. The online procedure to apply online for ownership rights are as follows:

  • A new website will be launched on December 16 where residents can apply for ownership rights.
  • All the required documents like general power of attorney, payment receipt, possession letter need to register and upload on the DDA website by the applicants.
  • The properties will be verified on spot by the DDA officials and such officials will also help the applicants to remove deficiencies in papers, in case if there is any.
  • Ownership certificates will be provided within 180 days from the date of application.
  • To obtain ownership certificates, the residents will have to pay charges notified by the central government, along with stamp duty and registration charges on the last transaction.
  • The registration of property will be done only in the name of the woman head of the family, or co-jointly with the male member of the house.

Conclusion:

The main object of the bill along with legalization of unauthorized colonies is also to facilitate development or re-development that may improve existing infrastructure, civic and social amenities which may lead to better quality of life of residents of unauthorized colonies.

For proper legalization to occur, the decision made by the SC in the case of Suraj Lamp & Industries (P.) Ltd. v. State of Haryana must be overturned as it held that sale transactions carried in the name of general power of attorney will have no legal sanctity. The private and public land in unauthorized colonies must be segregated as the payment charged for registration is different. The boundaries of unauthorized colonies must be demarcated and a Local Area Plan must be created. 

The objectives should be achieved as soon as possible without looking for any political benefit and without resorting to any conflict. Similar steps should be taken for regularization of unauthorized colonies in other parts of the country so that civic and social justice can be availed to all.

Author: Sahil Kumar Purvey from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Explained: SPG Act amendment

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

On 3rd December this year, the Special Protection Group Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed in the Parliament. The SPG (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was set in motion by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 25, 2019, in the lower house of the parliament in order to amend the Special Protections Group Act, 1988. 

While passing the bill, the Union Government asserted that the new amendment ought to be brought about to focus on the security of the Prime Minister, who is of prime importance for the national security and governance of the country. The Amendment also proposed to bring down the cost of maintaining the SPG security to the national treasury.

Prior to the formation of the group, a group of the municipality, the local police force, and other armed forces called the Special Task Force, provided security to the Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister and their families, handled by the Intelligence Bureau. However, there appeared to be poor coordination amongst the various forces.

History of the Act

On 8 April 1985, The SPG came first into existence, when S. Subramaniam, who was the Joint Director for VIP security at the time, in the Intelligence Bureau assumed office. The SPG which is the echeloned top-tier of security was set up in 1985 to protect the Prime Minister of India after the assassination of late PM Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards in October of 1984. 

After the incident, the government detected a need to form a force which would solely be dedicated and responsible to protect in-house and former PMs of India and their immediate family members. This was followed by an act passed by the parliament in 1988, to provide direct security to the PM and his immediate family members.  

The SPG worked as a security group solely based on an Executive Order for three years in the absence of any legislation, from April 1985 to June 1988. The SPG was created while keeping in mind the provisions sanctioned in the Blue Book which laid down principles for the protection of the Prime Minister(s) while at the same time also delimiting responsibility of different agencies pertaining with the safety of the Prime Minister.

However, the SPG Act was later amended to provide security cover to former PMs and their immediate families after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May,1991. The SPG was explicitly constituted and up skilled to provide protection to India’s former PM Rajiv Gandhi, after considering the threats encircling him.

Nevertheless, the body withdrew its services as soon as PM Rajiv Gandhi stopped holding the office after losing 1989 elections post the Bofors Scandal, which also intensified threats around him. His assassination in 1991, led to an amendment in the SPG Act, which broadened the act to promise security to the foregoing Prime Ministers and their immediate families.

Since then up-until now, the SPG has had only one task which was to provide protection to current Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and their family for a period of 10 years from the day on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office.

The Special Protection Group appears to have grown to a 3,500-member strong force consisting of multiple wings like technical, administration, communication, etc. and the budget has increased from Rs 411.68 crores in 2018-19 to Rs. 535 crores for the fiscal year 2019-20.

According to an article dated in year 2012, Rs 1800 crore has been spent by the government on protecting five VVIPs namely, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, ex-prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


What do the recent amendments mean?

The amendments in the act will lead to three vital changes:

(A) – SPG will only provide security in-house Prime Minister and their immediate family members residing with him or her,

(B) – earlier, the former Prime Ministers was to be provided with SPG Cover till 10 years of him giving up the office which has now been revised down to them retaining the right to seek protection from SPG for a period of 5 years after handing over the office and

(C) – the instant family members of the former PMs would only be entitled to get security from SPG commandos as long as they reside with the former PM at the official allowed residence which essentially means that as soon as the former PM loses his right to security from SPG, his immediate family loses the same too. Thus, in the event of the death of a former Prime Minister, his family would no longer be provided security by the Special Protection Group. 

Therefore, former PM Manmohan Singh as well as the Gandhis would be protected by the ‘Z plus security cover of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Narendra Modi, being the Prime Minister of India, would be the sole protectee of the force as provided under the new amendment Act.

The Gandhi family and SPG

By way of the recently amended SPG Act, he Gandhi family would now be without protection by SPG commandos after 28 years. Sonia Gandhi along with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, were given the privilege of being protected by SPG protection even though none of them were members of parliament at one point because, two of their family members were assassinated.

The assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had earlier led to an intensified threat perception for the Gandhi family. However, On 8 November 2019, the Union Government decided to withdraw the SPG Cover from the three Gandhis after a thorough threat assessment. This meant that the three Gandhis who were the only people except for Mr. Modi who were listed to get protection from SPG are now on a 30 people list of VVIPs who get protection from Z+ security.

With SPG security, come various privileges which the Gandhi family has become routine to, such as the bungalows provided to Gandhis have continued to be occupied by them despite inconsistencies in their political career (no one from the Gandhi Family, was a Member of Parliament from 1991-1999), they have had been provided with special bulletproof or armed BMW 7-series cars.

Being under the SPG Cover also means that your security is of paramount importance to the government and it is bound to meet the security demands of the SPG. They are therefore, entitled to use ultra-modern equipment and rifles, special choppers and aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Therefore, losing SPG Cover would lead to Gandhis losing all these benefits too.

Not surprisingly, the amendment had been strongly opposed by the congress party calling the move to revoke SPG protection for the Gandhi family, a hidden RSS agenda. The issue was raised in the Indian parliament house and has been protested against by the congress party as they think that this move leaves the Gandhis prone to terror attacks.

The government has acknowledged the charges directly as of yet. However, the government had, in its original statement said that the new security cover was revised based on the latest threat assessment.

Conclusion

Therefore, only the Prime Minister would be entitled to the protection of the over 3,000 strong SPG force. The main objective behind the introducing the amendment was to cut down on the budget of SPG, ensure that the group continued to provide security to the Prime Minister effectively and efficiently.

The SPG amendment bill, 2019 restricts SPG cover only to the PM and his immediate family, and ex-PM and his family for 5 years and the benefits accruable to the Gandhi family have been revoked.

Author: Ojasvi Agarwal from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.