Delhi High Court: In a case wherein the petitioner had filed a Public Interest Litigation for a total ban on over-the-counter sale of acid in retail stores, across Delhi, the Division Bench of Satish Chandra Sharma, C.J., and Sanjeev Narula, J.*, rejected the complete ban on acid sales and opined that acid serves various legitimate uses and applications in different industries. The Court further held that the State must focus on stringent implementation of the existing rules and regulations governing the sale.
The petitioner, an acid attack survivor, was a dedicated activist actively engaged in assisting acid attack victims with aftercare, rehabilitation, legal recourse, and pursuit for compensation. The petitioner’s efforts aimed to protect the public from becoming victims of such heinous attacks and thus, to further this cause, the petitioner had filed a Public Interest Litigation for seeking directions for a total ban on over-the-counter sale of acid in retail stores, across Delhi.
The petitioner contended that despite the previous Supreme Court judgments of Laxmi v. Union of India, (2014) 4 SCC 427 and Parivartan Kendra v. Union of India, (2016) 3 SCC 571, recognizing the traumatic challenges faced by acid attack survivors and explicit directives to regulate the sale of acid, the Government of Delhi had failed to address the problem. The petitioner also highlighted the delay on Government’s part in notifying the Delhi Poisons Possession and Sale Rules, 2015 (‘2015 Rules’). The petitioner submitted that despite this delayed legislative action, the ground reality remained unchanged, and occurrences of such horrific attacks were on the rise due to unfettered and effortless access to acid as the existing rules and regulations were neither being diligently adhered to, nor were effectively enforced.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court acknowledged the significance of the issue raised by petitioner and previous judgments of the Supreme Court that aimed to benefit the acid attack survivors. However, considering the issue whether a complete ban on the sale of acid was the appropriate approach to the problem, the Court opined that this decision warranted a comprehensive examination of existing legal framework and careful consideration of implications of various approaches as well as their potential effectiveness.
The Court opined that a total ban could have unintended consequences, affecting sectors where acid was responsibly and safely utilized. Therefore, striking a balance between public safety and the legitimate uses of acid for industrial and other regulated purposes was crucial. The Court recognized the various legitimate uses of acid and its applications in different industries, and further opined that an outright ban on the sale of acid might not be the most appropriate approach. Instead, the focus should be on stringent implementation of the existing rules and regulations governing sales.
The Court further opined that by enforcing 2015 Rules with full rigor, the authorities could effectively regulate the sale of acid and prevent its misuse for criminal purposes and this approach would balance the concerns addressed by the petitioner with the need for safeguarding the legitimate needs of various industries and individuals.
Further, instead of striking down 2015 Rules or directing a complete ban, the Court directed the Government to ensure proper implementation of existing legal framework and in cases of non-compliance, the authorities must take swift and decisive action against the offenders. By imposing strict penalties on those found to be involved in the illegal sale or misuse of acid, the state authorities could create a deterrent effect and encourage compliance with the 2015 Rules. The Court opined that through strict regulation and monitoring of sale by the law enforcement agencies, the likelihood of occurrence of acid attacks could be significantly reduced and adopting such a proactive approach would send a clear message that perpetrators would face consequences for their actions.
The Court further directed the Government to conduct a comprehensive empirical study to assess the potential consequences of a complete ban on acid on various sectors, individuals, and businesses and adopting the evidence-based approach would help the State to better understand the impact on public safety, industry, and other legitimate uses of acid.
The Court granted liberty to the petitioner to approach this Court again in case breaches in implementation of the regulations continued, even after a reasonable period of time and by granting this liberty, the Court ensured that the petitioner’s concerns were adequately addressed and there was room for further exploration of alternatives, if the need arised.
The Court appreciated the petitioner’s commitment towards seeking justice, rehabilitation and societal support for acid attack survivor and hoped that the Government and the Delhi Police would approach this matter with utmost seriousness and would demonstrate a vigilant and decisive approach in strict implementation of the provisions of law.
The Court disposed of the petition with liberty for the petitioner.
[Shaheen Malik v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4371, decided on 27-07-2023]
*Judgment by- Justice Sanjeev Narula
Advocates who appeared in this case:
For Petitioner: Anuj Kapoor, Advocate;
For Respondents: Santosh Kumar Tripathi, Standing Counsel; Arun Panwar, Kartik Sharma, Utkarsh Singh, Advocate.