New Delhi: For Sonali Mukherjee, who aged only 18 fell victim to an acid attack in Dhanbad in 2003, the apex court ruling Thursday introducing regulations in the sale of the substance comes as "too little, too late".
Sonali Mukherjee was terribly scarred for life by the attackers who struck as she lay sleeping on the terrace of her house. Days before the attack, Mukherjee, who belonged to the National Cadet Corps, had been warned that she would be taught a lesson for her "ghamand" (arrogance).
The apex court Thursday issued detailed directions, banning the sale of acid to minors and regulating sale of the substance. Retail outlets possessing a licence for its sale need to maintain a stock register; failing to maintain such a register or possession of unaccounted acid will lead to a fine of Rs.50,000.
However, an organisation of traders claimed that the Supreme Court's direction would just come as an additional burden.
"It is the top court's order and traders will definitely follow it, but maintaining a stock register is definitely an additional burden. Moreover, whether banning sale to minors is practically viable is the question. A trader cannot ask for an age proof of a customer, and the substance is mostly sold in hardware shops, where many labourers come in. And we cannot easily identify the age of the labourer, Praveen Khandelwal, secretary, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) told IANS.
The court also asked all states which already have rules to regulate the sale of acid to reinforce these. States not having such rules have been instructed to frame them in accordance with the model rules of the central government.
"If these decisions were made earlier, many lives could have been saved. But better late than never. Now I hope cases of acid attacks will reduce. But asking for an identity card from those planning to buy the substance will not be a huge deterrent for those planning an attack with it. Acid is easily available, and it can be used by anyone, anytime and anywhere," Sonali Mukherjee told IANS over the telephone.
The court also directed that an acid attack victim should be paid Rs.1 lakh within 15 days of the incident, and the remaining Rs.two lakh within two months, for treatment.
Victims and activists involved in the cause of justice for people subjected to such violence have said that the compensation amount, although increased from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.3 lakh to each victim, is still too little.
"In 10 years, I have spent Rs.40 lakh already. And my treatment is still not complete," Mukherjee explained.
Archana Kumari, another victim, said she had received only Rs.30,000 in five years. She said that victims of acid attacks had waited long for the steps announced by the court: "Now it is in the hands of state governments to completely stop easy availability of potential life-threatening chemicals," Kumari added.
Noting the huge expenses involved in long-term reconstructive surgery for victims of acid attacks, activists opine that Rs.3 lakh as compensation is ridiculously low. They add that a blanket sum in compensation for such violence is not a wise move, as the amount would depend on the needs of individual victims, which can vary widely.
"Whenever acid is purchased, its purpose should be noted down, and stringent measures should be taken to check the authenticity of the identity shown, so that it is easier to track down a person who has bought acid, if required," Kumari said.
Alok Dixit, founder of the Stop Acid Attacks (SAA) campaign, however, demurred.
"I fear that things will be only be on paper, and vague recommendations will be made to express false sympathy," Dixit said, adding that strict implementation of the court's orders was necessary.
According to health experts, sulphuric, hydrochloric and nitric acids have a harmful effect on human flesh.
"Even the sulphuric acid used to clean toilets, in concentrated form, melts the tissue; exposure to it could even dissolve the bone," cosmetologist Ritu Sharma explained.