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No regulation in place to control sale and distribution of acid

- NAYAK PAUDEL, Kathmandu

May 27, 2019-

On May 15, at around 8 pm, 20-year-old Jenny Khadka was doused with acid by her husband, Bishnu Bhujel, in Kalopul. The couple had a strained one-year marriage.

After the incident, Bhujel was on the run. But the police tracked him and arrested him from Kadaghari the same night.

During interrogation, Bhujel said that he had come to Kathmandu from Banepa, where he worked at a motorcycle garage, with only one intention: to hurl acid over his wife.

According to the Metropolitan Police Circle, Ranipokhari, who is investigating the case, Bhujel had obtained the acid from a jewellery shop in Banepa.

“Bhujel said that he had got the acid from a jewellery shop. He knew the owner and had asked for the acid on the pretext of removing a splinter from his leg,” Deputy Superintendent of Police Rabindra Nath Paudel, in-charge of the circle, told the Post.

Once he received the acid, he rode his bike and came to the Capital, police said.

This is the fourth case of acid attack recorded in the fiscal year 2018/19. A total of 12 cases have been reported across the country till date from 2014/15.

“Acid is used in different sectors for different purposes, and is easily available,” Senior Superintendent of Police Uttam Raj Subedi, chief of the Metropolitan Police Range, Kathmandu, told the Post. “While it is true that there is no stringent law to regulate the sale of acid, it is also the responsibility of the selling the acid to be mindful of whom they are giving such hazardous substance to. The shop that gave acid to Bhujel will also face investigation.”

On February 22, 2015, a group of four masked people hurled acid on Sangita Magar and Sima Basnet, who were returning from a tuition centre in Basantapur. The investigation on the case showed that the perpetrator had received acid from a hardware shop.

“One can buy or have access to acid from a jewellery shop to a hardware store. Several cases point towards the perpetrators having easy access to acid from such shops, but no laws have yet been introduced to regulate the open sale of acid,” Additional Inspector General of Police Pushkar Karki, and executive director of Nepal Police Academy, told the Post.

“Along with regulating the sale of acid, the government should also introduce stringent legal action against perpetrators. The cases of acid attacks should be kept in high priority by the courts so that the culprits don’t walk off scot free,” said Karki, who had probed the case of the acid attack in Basantapur.

According to the prevailing Criminal Code, a perpetrator can be sentenced to jail time for up to eight years and face a maximum fine of Rs500,000 in cases where the victim’s face is injured in an acid or any chemical attack. Similarly, perpetrators can face three years in jail and a fine of Rs300,000 if the victim sustains injuries on other body parts.

On August 2017, the Supreme Court had issued an order to the government to regulate the sale and distribution of acids. The order was issued over a petition filed by advocate Sashi Basnet along with Justice and Rights Institute Nepal, an organisation working for human rights and social justice.

However, despite the order from the apex court nearly two years ago, the government is yet to make regulations to contain such crimes.

According to the officials at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, there are no laws yet to regulate the sale and distribution of acids.

“No steps have been taken yet in regards to the issue by the ministry and I don’t know about its development. Since acids are imported for different sectors such as agriculture and health as well, there are other government authorities related to it as well,” Navaraj Dhakal, spokesperson of the ministry, told the Post.

Last year on September, The Himalayan Times had quoted Dhakal in a story ‘Harmful chemicals law not enacted despite SC order’ in which Dhakal had said that the ministry was ready to follow the Supreme Court’s order but they had not received the copy of the order yet.

However, activists have argued that the government’s move of waiting for a written order to bring a regulation to regulate sale and distribution of acid was itself ridiculous.

“Regulating the sale and distribution of acid is a way to control the incidents of acid attack and it is the government’s responsibility. How can they take such a grave matter lightly by waiting for a copy of the order in order to bring a regulation?” Basnet told the Post. “When I enquired about the delay in sending the copy of the order, I was told that it was on its way.”

“Bangladesh and India had many cases of acid attacks following which their respective governments brought rules to regulate the sale and distribution of acid. So why can we not do the same?” said Basnet.

“The cases of acid attack have shown that the perpetrators have acquired acid on the pretext of using the substance for other purposes. A strict regulation would prevent shop owners from selling acids easily to would be perpetrators,” Tej Ratna Shakya, past president of the Federation of Nepal Gold and Silver Dealers’ Association, told the Post. “The shops should be able to say ‘no’ to anyone who asks for acid.”

Published: 27-05-2019 08:34

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