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New Delhi: The government has proposed several measures to regulate the sale of acids in the open market, including issuing licences to sellers and restricting access to young people, to curb attacks on women.

In the draft model rules that it placed before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the government proposed issuing licences, valid for five years, to shops selling acid. The rules and the seller’s licence should be exhibited within a shop’s premises, it said. The Bench comprised Justices R.M. Lodha and S.J. Mukhopadhaya.

Buyers may have to submit identity proofs and declare the purpose for which the acid will be used. Also, people below 18 years may not be allowed to buy acid, said Justice Lodha.

The Supreme Court took note of the draft model rules placed on record by the government.

Recognizing that introducing the rules at the state level will take considerable time, the court directed the counsel for the petitioners, Aparna Bhat, and the counsel for the Union of India, Mohan Parasaran, to discuss the matter and come up with draft suggestions in two days for immediate steps to curb such attacks.

Noting that the power to regulate the sale of acid lies with different state governments, the court suggested the Central government could introduce the rules as “model rules" that states could modify as required and adopt.

Only five states—Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana—have so far introduced rules for regulating the sale of acids, the government told the court.

The apex court emphasized the need to segregate different kinds of acids as industrial, medical or educational depending on their use.

On 6 February, the Supreme Court had directed the Union government to convene in six weeks a meeting of chief secretaries of all states and Union territories to discuss enacting a law to regulate the sale of acids and a policy for treatment, compensation and care and rehabilitation of such victims. The government, however, had failed to present any proposal in the matter when it came up for hearing on 9 July, earning the Supreme Court’s reprimand.

Experts recognize the need to regulate the sale of acids.

Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, who has worked extensively on issues of women’s rights, said four aspects must be taken care of to eliminate the easy availability of acids: licensed acid sale, identification of the purchaser, recording the purpose of purchase, and a closer watch on the age of the purchaser.

The last criterion, she said, is based on findings that offenders in acid attack cases are predominantly in the 18-30 age group, while victims are of 16-25 years.

“The regulation will have to be in the nature of providing acid only to industries/persons who work with them. This, in a sense, ensures accountability, so that if a person obtains acid from a person licensed to possess it, the law could provide punishment to the licence holder as well," Kumari said.

“Regulatory mechanisms might not work. But I guess that the working of the mechanism to a certain extent is more advantageous than people having unabated access to acid, which then can be used for attacking people," said Mrinal Satish, associate professor, National Law University, Delhi. “I guess using strict liability provisions as well as deterrent punishments might be a solution."

Satish assisted the Verma committee that was constituted post the 16 December 2012 gang rape incident to make recommendations for amendment in criminal law.

Acid attack is recognized as an offence in the Indian Penal Code. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013 brought 10 years’ imprisonment as a minimum punishment.

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