Despite Supreme Court’s directions to regulate sale of acid, it continues to be easily accessible, even by teenagers.

Ktaka teens throw toilet cleaner on minors Why is it so easy to buy acid in India
news Crime Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - 18:13

On Tuesday morning, Vishesh* (11) and Sumith* (4) had gone to their usual playground in Tiptur, Tumakuru district in Karnataka. The brothers didn’t know then that a small fight over who should play there would turn into something much more shocking.

At a complex near the playground, they met some older boys who also used to play there. They reportedly disliked the siblings coming to the playground and had told them off many times. This time however, the older boys did something much worse – they threw bathroom cleaning liquid on Vishesh and Sumith.

Vishesh has boils on his cheek, forehead and under eye, and Sumith has suffered boils on his cheek and below his eye. Inspector Deepak of Tiptur police station tells TNM that the boys’ injuries indicate that what was thrown on them was not pure acid – however, many bathroom cleaners contain some form of diluted hydrochloric acid.

While Vishesh and Sumith were able to escape with minor injuries, it is surprising that the older boys, reportedly in their teens, were able to get their hands on such a substance.

Experts pointed out to TNM that despite efforts to raise awareness and Supreme Court’s directions to regulate sale of acid, it continues to be easily accessible, even by teenagers such as in the Tumakuru case.

The Supreme Court directives of 2013

In 2013, the Supreme Court issued directives to regulate and control the sale of acid. A bench of Justices RM Lodha and FMI Kalifulla banned the sale of acid to minors and also for sellers to declare their stock within 15 days of the order. Failing to do the latter would cost them a fine of Rs 50,000 and confiscation of their stock.

The bench also mandated that sale of acid be allowed only in licensed shops, and shopkeepers would have to keep a daily record of quantity of acid sold and to whom. They were also directed to make note of ID proof, residential address, phone number and purpose for purchasing acid from the buyer. Retailers were asked to sell diluted acid, which would not be corrosive to human skin.

The apex court also said that institutions such as hospitals, research labs, educational institutions which need to use such substances would have to keep a record with the sub-divisional magistrate, with a designated official being accountable for possession and safekeeping of acids. Without proper checking, no one would be allowed to access these storage spaces.

Wrongful sale and misuse

Avijit Kumar, Assistant Director of Acid Survivors and Women Welfare Foundation (ASWWF), explains that there are two kinds of acids that are mainly used – sulphuric acid, which is used in batteries and for industrial purposes, and hydrochloric acid or muriatic acid which is used for cleaning purposes in a diluted form.

While the industrial sector monitors its use and there are few leakages in the supply chain, it is the unorganised sector from where acid is leaked and sold to, say, jewellers and the cotton dyeing industry.

“Earlier, even larger stores used to sell acid openly. What we have been noticing now, with increasing alarm, is that after the 2013 Supreme Court order, manufacturers have merely changed the labels on their product. So, for instance, the label no longer says ‘muriatic acid’ but simply ‘cleaning liquid’,” Avijit observes.

Alok Dixit, a campaigner with Stop Acid Attacks, has also observed the lack of regulation in production of acid. “A lot of times, acid is produced in factories, which are also not registered to produce it. Shopkeepers get concentrated acid from there, dilute it, store it in bottles and sell it,” he says.

“Another problem is this - What is the PH level or concentration level of the acid which can be used for household cleaning? There is no set standard,” Alok adds.

No implementation of SC guidelines

Avijit and Alok say that while the Supreme Court has given guidelines, there is no proper implementation.

Alok and his team filed RTIs in various northern states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 2015 and found in many cases that there were no registries being maintained by the sub-divisional magistrates about storage of acid. Through another initiative called ‘Shoot acid’ they went to shops and found that many were still selling acid, without asking for ID proof and other requirements.

Avijit asserts that there needs to be a concentrated effort to reduce easy availability of acid. “There are alternatives like soda-based cleaners which can be used in place of cleaning acid. While acid sale under the table might continue, but I believe that the volume of acid attacks would come down if it is not readily available.”

Increasing instances of minors perpetuating violence

Avijit expresses concern that the Tumakuru incident is the third of its kind that he has come to know of in recent times.

“It is worrying that more minors are perpetrating such violent crimes, and even acid attacks are no exception,” he states. He adds that while awareness is important, it may also gives ideas to a perpetrator looking to exact revenge.

Avijit believes that this is a partly social issue as well. “With more and more couples in nuclear families giving in to children’s demands to keep them busy, the kids do not grow up learning to hear no. Unable to bear rejection then, they often resort to violence,” he says.

Prasanna, managing trustee of International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, says that such violent behaviour in children is also telling of the violence they see in their lives.

“I strongly believe that they are experiencing violence back home, which impacts them deeply. If they consume media which shows violence, or play violent video games, that also has a similar effect on their behaviour,” she says.

*Not their real names

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