MUMBAI: In a significant order, the Bombay High Court earlier this week, ordered the Maharashtra government to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation, to a woman, whose face was disfigured by her husband by pouring boiled inflammable corrosive substance on her face and body. The HC said the state cannot deny relief to such victims.
The bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar was petitioned by Kavita Shetty, who married to Nityanand in April 2005. The couple has two sons and it lives in Dongri area in Dahisar.
According to Kavita, her husband in November 2010, poured boiling inflammable corrosive substance on her face and body. Though she tried to resist with both the hands, the substance fell on face and other parts of her body, causing nearly 80 per cent burns on her person.
Notably, for the offence, Nityanand was sentenced to 13 years of rigorous imprisonment and he was ordered by a special court to pay Rs 1.25 lakh compensation to the wife.
Since the incident, Kavita has spent over Rs 5 lakh for various surgeries and treatment of her face and body. She claimed that she survives by selling immitation jewellery in local trains and has now started facing financial constraints and thus cannot afford for further reconstruction surgery.
Accordingly, Kavita demanded compensation under the Manodhairya scheme.
Contesting the plea, the state argued that the Manodhairya scheme was first implemented in 2013 and the incident with Kavita took place in 2010. It argued that since the scheme isn't applicable retrospectively, she cannot be compensated.
The bench, having heard the contentions, referred to the provisions of criminal law and said, "While punishment to the accused is one aspect, determination of just compensation to the victim is the other."
The bench referred to provisions of section 357 (a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and also 326 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalises acid attack and also provides for just compensation that could be used for treatment.
"Legislature has not intended to confine the rigours of these provisions only to throwing or attempting to throw or administering or attempt to administer acid. It could be by using any other means with the intent of causing or with the knowledge that by such act, serious injury or hurt will be caused to the victim," the bench said.
"Further, the word ‘acid’ has not been given a strict meaning confined to its chemical formula or definition. It could be any substance which has acidic or corrosive character or of burning nature which is capable of causing bodily injury leading to scars or disfigurement or temporary or permanent disability," the bench noted.
In its judgment, the bench further noted the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which they said, has been enacted to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
"In the category of ‘physical disability’ at clause A(e) is included ‘acid attack victim’ which has been defined to mean a person disfigured due to violent assaults by throwing of acid or similar corrosive substance," the judges said, adding, "Therefore, ‘an acid attack victim’ would be construed to be a person suffering from ‘specified disability," the bench held.
"This Act provides for several measures to be taken by the appropriate government for rehabilitation of persons with disabilities which would include acid attack victims as defined in the 2016 Act. One of the most important aspects of such rehabilitation measures is to provide free healthcare in the vicinity including by providing priority in attendance and treatment," the judges added.
The bench further noted that no measures for Kavita's rehabilitation have been undertaken by the state notwithstanding the statutory mandate.
"It is really an unfortunate case. Her right to lead a meaningful life, a life with dignity, within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution of India remains a distant dream," the judges noted, adding, "In such circumstances, this court will be failing in its duty if it does not direct payment of just compensation to her as well as to direct rehabilitation measures for her."
The bench, accordingly, ordered the state government to pay Rs 10 lakhs within three months, of which 75 per cent would be kept in fix and the remaining 25 per cent would be credited in her account.
"State to also ensure that all rehabilitative measures as provided under the law are made available to her. It should also ensure that free medical treatment is extended to her including additional/reconstructive surgery that may be required," the bench ordered.
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