- Charul Shah,
The special women’s court on Tuesday held the accused in the Preeti Rathi acid attack case guilty of murder. The court convicted Ankur Panwar, Rathi’s relative, and set the sentencing date for Wednesday.
Rathi, who hailed from Delhi, died of multiple organ failure after Panwar threw acid on her in May 2013. The court heard both the sides last Friday and closed the case for judgement.
In 2013, Rathi secured a nursing job with the ministry of defence at the INHS Asvini Hospital in Colaba. However, Panwar was unhappy with Rathi shifting to Mumbai. Special public prosecutor (SPP) Ujwal Nikam argued that Panwar wanted to marry Rathi, but the latter declined his proposal as she wanted to pursue her career. Angered by her refusal, Panwar even tried to stop Rathi from taking up the job. Brushing aside his objections, Rathi finally left for Mumbai on May 1, 2013.
Nikam alleged that Panwar followed her from Delhi, with a chemical, to avenge Rathi’s denial. On May 2, when Rathi reached Bandra terminus, Panwar threw acid on her. While Rathi sustained serious burn injuries, three other passengers were also injured in the attack. Panwar too sustained a few burns.
According to the prosecution, Rathi was rushed to Madeena Hospital and was later moved to Gurunanak Hospital after initial treatment. As her conditioned worsened, Rathi was shifted to Bombay Hospital where she succumbed to her injuries on June 1, 2013.
The Mumbai railway police had first arrested Rathi’s neighbour Pawankumar Gahalon, but let him off in 2014, after no evidence was found to link him to the crime. Later, Mumbai crime branch arrested Panwar.
The prosecution alleged that he was the one who threw acid on Rathi, and was also identified by the eyewitnesses. The prosecution examined 37 witnesses, including five eyewitnesses and 11 doctors in the case.
But defence lawyer Apeksha Vora argued that Rathi died due to medical negligence and Panwar was falsely implicated in the case. Vora had argued that Rathi was first taken to Bhabha Hospital, where she did not get proper treatment and later at Maseena Hospital the doctors ignored her and that she was examined by the junior staff, who neglected her condition.
The law, amended in 2013, made causing permanent damage by acid throwing an offence punishable with a minimum jail term of 10 years (see box).
Last September, Jerrit John was sentenced to five years for throwing a chemical on his former girlfriend, even while his lawyer pointed to medical evidence that no injury was caused. The Bombay high court released him on bail after three years in custody for the 2012 attack; the case was governed by the old law.
Veteran criminal lawyer Harshad Ponda said, “The law has been made stricter for a reason. There is a minimum prescribed sentence, which is necessary for such offences. It is meant to be commensurate with the offence and deter repeat offences, and in general curb these crimes.“
But advocate Shyam Keswani, who practices at the sessions and special trial courts, said, “Harsher laws do not necessarily translate to being a deterrent.Injuring someone seriously with a corrosive substance was punishable with life sentence even under the un-amended IPC.“