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Nirbhaya, a case that brought massive upsurge in the Indian legal system and led to the formation of J.S. Verma Committee in the wake of the outbreak which in turn discussed at length the various crimes that are prevalent in the society and the outcome was the reformation and revamping of the Indian Laws ranging from Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015; introduction of new sexual assault offences (Section 354A-D) and also insertion of Section 326A (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use if acid etc.) and Section 326B (Voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid) among others.

It’s more than half a decade since these amendments and legislations to that effect have become a part of the Indian Diaspora with the Supreme Court (Justices R.M. Lodha and F.M.I. Kalifulla in Laxmi v. Union of India [1]) imposing stricter restrictions on the sale of chemicals and rehabilitation and compensation of the victims but still the application of these golden provisions have remained limited to that of literal interpretation. Any change, even for the better is always accompanied by new challenges and drawbacks. Even after having stricter legislation in place, there have been numerous cases where there has been disfigurement or damage to the body of the victim not by throwing of acid perse but also throwing of substances that can be potentially dangerous in a particular form, one such instance involves throwing of hot oil on the victim.

Stance Of The Courts For Administering Hot Oil On The Victim

There exists no particular legislation that strictly provides for a straightjacket redressal of the issue involving harm by usage of hot oil on the survivors however the courts have mostly adopted a stance similar to the pre-amendment era i.e. application of Section 326 Indian Penal Code, 1860 which provides for “Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means” since it includes grievous hurt by means of any heated substance or any corrosive substance which is alike to Shri Kishore Kumar v State of Himachal Pradesh (2012) where the falling of hot oil on the complainant attracted Section 326 IPC .

In the decision given by the High Court of Calcutta in 2018, S.K. Anowar v The State of West Bengal[2], where the appellant poured hot oil on the body of the victim causing serious burn injuries and the charge was framed against Section 326 IPC and not (although later Section 302 was added after the victim expired).

In another case decided by a division bench of Bombay High Court in Shahnawaz Nurul Hassan Khan v. The State of Maharashtra[3] (Criminal Writ Petition No. 2567 of 2016), where hot oil got poured on the complainant’s son, the case was again registered under Section 326.

Further, in Rajesh v. The State(NCT of Delhi)[4] which was decided in 2014, the court applied Section 326/302 of IPC when the victim succumbed to scalding oil.

These cases are a reflection of the fact that inspite of legislations already in place, the judiciary has rather adhered to the stereotypical stance of direct application of Section 326.  

Applicability Of Section 326A and 326B To Oil Burn Cases

Section 326A provides “Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt….”

Section 326B also provides that “Whoever throws or attempts to throw acid on any person or attempts to administer acid to any person, or attempts to use any other means, with the intention of causing permanent or partial damage or deformity or burns or maiming or disfigurement or disability or grievous hurt to that person….”

The ingredients required for the applicability of Section 326A and 326B includes:

  • damage, deformity, disfigurement, disability or maiming;
  • by throwing/ administering acid or by any other means;
  • intention or knowledge

The language of the section is thus reflective that the Section is not only limited to acids but also any other means which can cause any damage to any part of the human body which can including administering of acids as well.

Further, the Explanation 1 to Section 326B states that acid includes any substance which is acidic or corrosive or has burning nature and is capable of causing bodily injury and causing scars or disgurement irrespective of the fact that the damage is reversible or not.

Hence, acid is not included in its traditional sense but also in a more generic form to include a wide expanse of situations which could also include hot oil attacks which fulfils all the ingredients provided under the aforesaid provision.  

In June 2013, soon after the incorporation of the amended provisions, a Kalyan man threw hot oil on 21 year old causing damages of a permanent nature. It was pleaded by the crime law expert that the usage of hot oil instead of acid will not reduce the gravity of the offence.   

What Benefit Will It Bear By Application Of The Section 326A And 326B?

The application of the aforesaid sections in cases involving hot oil is indeed more beneficial to the victim in terms of compensation and rehabilitation. Section 326A provides for the imposition of fine which is just and reasonable and any fine which is imposed is to be paid to the victim in order to cover the medical expenses of the accused.

There are a multitude of issues with the application of Section 326 IPC to hot oil cases because of the narrow scope of the provision. The said section fails to take into account the various injuries that might be inflicted with throwing of hot oil which is alike acids i.e. damage, deformity, disfigurement, disability or maiming. It further fails to cover an instance of administering of hot oil and not actually throwing it or when no injury is caused on voluntarily throwing of the hot oil.

Even in terms of punishment, if Section 326B is given an interpretation to cover hot oil attack cases then even attempt or administering of it shall attract imprisonment to 5 years which can be extended upto 7 years. While actual throwing of hot oil can invoke minimum punishment of 10 years extending to life imprisonment with fine by application of Section 326A as against the present scenario where attempting to throw hot oil cannot be covered and injury is a pre-requisite to invoke the sections and if injury is caused then punishment can be imprisonment for life or imprisonment which may extend upto 10 years along with fine with no provision for treatment of victim or the compensation.

Moreover, the proposed Section 114B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 dealing with Presumptions as to acid attacks provides “If a person has thrown acid on, or administered acid to, another person the court shall presume that such an act has been done with the intention of causing, or with the knowledge that such an act is likely to cause such hurt or injury as is mentioned in Section 326A of the Indian Penal Code.” [5] If the same is incorporated and applied to hot oil attack cases, this presumption can avail great benefit to the victim.   

The Criminal Law (Amendment Act), 2013 not only made acid attack an offence with stringent punishment and is gender neutral as well but also made an attempt to restore the victim. Amendment to CrPC in 2013 added sections 357B and 357C. Further, under 357A dealing with victim compensation scheme which was notified to all States and Union Territories, in order to rehabilitate the victims, the State Government along with the Central Government is required to prepare a scheme for funds to be disbursed as compensation to the victim or the dependants. Further, this compensation is in addition to the fine to the victim under Sections 326A with minimum compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs as decided in Laxmi v Union of India[6]. Moreover, all public and private hospitals are required to provide first aid or medical treatment to the victim free of cost in such offences. Thus, the offences involving throwing of oil attacks when treated similar to acids by courts would lead to better outcomes both in terms of deterrence and restoration of the victim.

By: Kartikey Singh Somvanshi 

  • [1] (2014) 4 SCC 427
  • [2] C.R.A. 99 of 2015.
  • [3] 2016 (4) BomCR (Cri) 191.
  • [4] Crl. A. 18, 27 and 49/2000
  • [5]
  • [6] 2014 SCC 4 427.

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