Mumbai: In a breather for Ankur Panwar, who was convicted for hurling acid on Preeti Rathi, the Bombay High Court commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, on Wednesday. This was the first instance in the country in which a person was awarded death in an acid attack case. Panwar was convicted by a special woman’s court in September 2016 for throwing acid on Rathi in 2013 for turning down his marriage proposal. She had just arrived at the city’s Bandra railway terminus and was to join her military nursing service. Special Judge Anju Shende had sentenced him to death by terming acid attack as worse than rape and possibly one of the most heinous crimes which a human being can commit.
Aggrieved by the capital punishment imposed upon him, Panwar petitioned a bench of Justices Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Prakash Naik. He urged the judges to set aside the death sentence as his case did not fall under the ‘rarest of rare’ category, which has been made mandatory by the apex court for handing out capital punishment to any convict. The bench considered the material on record and confirmed his conviction for murder and causing grievous hurt by throwing acid. “The overt act attributed to the accused, the preparation made to commit the crime, the manner in which acid was plunged on the face of victim, the nature of injuries, opinion expressed by medical officers, cause of death reflected in the medical evidence, would indicate that accused had the intention to commit murder,” the judges said.
The bench though maintained his conviction, however, commuted his death to lifer saying the courts cannot be swayed by sentiments or prejudice against the person accused of commission of a crime. While scrutinising the special women court’s verdict, the judges said, “The trial court relied on collective conscience to hold that Panwar deserves the death penalty. However, there was nothing to indicate that Panwar was beyond reformation and rehabilitation, as mandated by law.” “The mitigating circumstance that Panwar was of young age at the relevant time, was ignored by the trial court. In these circumstances, although Panwar’s conviction can be confirmed, the death sentence will have to be commuted to imprisonment for life,” the judges held. The 69-page judgment, penned down by Justice Naik, states that the trial court has failed to apply its mind to the mitigating circumstances. “The accused was a young boy and has no past criminal record. Thus, we do not find that present case can be termed as rarest of the rare case and hence, Panwar does not deserve the death penalty,” the bench said.
What the special women’s court said
In her 152-page judgment, special Judge Anju Shende had held, “Acid attack is possibly one of the most heinous crimes which a human being can commit. It takes an elaborate degree of sadism and depravity to indulge in something as cruel and inhuman.” “Acid attacks are worst than rape as the victims of acid attack if survive they require to face the consequences for the whole life. Due to their horrific physical appearances, society also looks at them as an alien. They feel worthless and embarrassed and their remaining life is ruined after the incident,” the judge had observed. While speaking of the damage to a persons body and soul, the judge had also said, “It is highly improbable that if the victim of acid attack survives somebody may marry her. If she gets such fortune, it cannot be denied that her own child may get scared of her by looking at her face. What else can be more painful than such a moment for a mother/woman.”
- Narsi Benwal