New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said state governments should pay higher compensation to acid-attack survivors, stressing the need for rehabilitation of the victims.

A bench comprising justices M.Y. Eqbal and C. Nagappan also directed governments of states and union territories to take steps to treat acid attack survivors as physically disabled people and offer the benefits that the disabled receive.

In 2013, in the case of an acid attack survivor identified Laxmi, the apex court issued guidelines to regulate the sale of acid and storing of chemicals and suggested compensation schemes for survivors.

Ruling on a petition filed by non-profit Parivartan Kendra, the court on Monday awarded a compensation of 13 lakh for a woman from Bihar, Chanchal, and her sister, for injuries they suffered in an acid attack. The two-judge bench noted that the July 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court mandated a minimum of 3 lakh compensation, but a higher sum could be awarded.

“A minimum of 3 lakh is to be awarded by the government to each victim of acid attack… It is to be noted that this Court in Laxmi’s case…doesn’t put a bar on the government to award compensation limited to 3 lakh. The state has the discretion to provide more compensation to the victim in the case of acid attack as per Laxmi’s case guidelines," the court said.

“…we additionally direct all the states and union territories to consider the plight of such victims and take appropriate steps with regard to inclusion of their names under the disability list," the court said in a 25-page ruling.

Under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, there are seven categories under which a person can seek protection. Inclusion under this could improve social protection for acid attack victims, according to experts.

“The move to include acid attack survivors within the disability list will open up a lot of additional social protection for them that may not exist at present," said Amba Salelkar of the Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, Chennai.

“But this will effectively shift the concerns of these women from the ministry of women and child development (WCD) to the ministry for social Justice at the Centre, and between these departments at the state level. This shouldn’t result in the WCD (ministry) and National Commission for Women not engaging with survivors and their issues as is what happens with other women with disabilities. That’s one concern."

Lawyer Colin Gonsalves, who represented Parivartan Kendra, welcomed the judgment.

“I’ve not yet seen the judgment. From the reports, I hear that the compensation has been enhanced to 10 lakh. That is a very welcome move. After Laxmi’s case, every government deliberately pretended that the minimum compensation of 3 lakh was the maximum. Therefore, all acid attack cases were awarded a maximum of 3 lakh. This judgment breaks that ceiling," Gonsalves said.

“The principle in this case will apply to other cases. Depending on the number of surgeries, compensation could be even higher than 10 lakh," Gonsalves added.

The court noted the plight and social alienation faced by acid attack victims in its verdict.

“The likeliness of the victim getting a job which involves physical exertion of energy is very low…The social stigma and the pain that she has to go through for not being accepted by the society cannot be neglected. Furthermore, the general reaction of loathing which she would have to encounter and the humiliation that she would have to face throughout her life cannot be compensated in terms of money. As a result of the physical injury, the victim will not be able to lead a normal life and cannot dream of marriage prospects," the court said.

Salelkar said that the language used by the court with regard to acid attack victims was “typical".

“The judgment does paint a bleak picture. But the court’s language is very typical. What the court does is it centers the problem with the person, rather than the attitudinal barriers surrounding the impairment. The approach of the court is a charity-based approach which roots the problem with the person who needs pity and not with the barriers which makes the impairment a disability," Salelkar said.

Acid attacks on women have become increasingly common in India in recent years despite action taken by the law to deter them. A June 2013 report in Mint said the home ministry estimated that 500 such attacks had taken place over the past four years. Many of the attacks were carried out by stalkers, or men who had had their advances or proposals for marriage spurned by the victims.

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