The Attorney General of India K.K. Venugopal termed the Bombay High Court judgment, which held that ‘skin-to-skin’ contact is necessary to constitute sexual assault under POCSO Act, as outrageous. Slamming this judgment, the AG argued that a person wearing surgical gloves can feel the entire body of a woman and get away without punishment.
In January this year, the AG moved the Supreme Court challenging the Bombay High Court judgment acquitting a person under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, after he pressed a girl’s breast over the dress stating there was no skin-to-skin contact.
The AG on Tuesday submitted before a bench comprising Justices U.U. Lalit and Ajay Rastogi that it is an outrageous judgement, as far as POCSO is concerned. The AG argued that the high court judge said skin-to-skin contact is required that would result in a person wearing surgical gloves and touching a woman inappropriately and getting an acquittal. He emphasized in this case, there was a girl child involved.
He said the girl was taken by the man, who touched her breast and pulled her ‘salwar’ down. The daughter yelled and the mother rushed to her rescue and then filed a complaint.
Criticizing the high court order, the AG stressed it will become a precedent binding on magistrates in Maharashtra and added that there were 43,000 POCSO offences in the last one year. He added if somebody touches the breast of a woman, there is a punishment for a minimum of three years. The high court had modified the order of a sessions court, which sentenced a 39-year-old man to three years of imprisonment for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.
The AG reiterated tomorrow any person who wears a surgical glove and feels the entire body of a woman including vagina without penetration and the minimum punishment of 3 years wouldn’t apply to him. “This is outrageous. The Judge clearly didn’t see the far-reaching consequences”, he argued. Advocate Rahul Chitnis, representing the Maharashtra government, said we are supporting the AG’s submission.
The bench observed that service of show cause notice is complete in all matters. However, nobody appeared on behalf of the accused. The bench noted that it will ask the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to appoint someone as the counsel for the accused. “We can place the matter after two weeks”, said the bench, as it listed the matter for further hearing on September 14.
The top court on January 27 had stayed the operation of the January 19 verdict of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court after the AG had mentioned it and was allowed to file an appeal. The top court-appointed senior advocate Siddharth Dave as amicus curiae in the matter.
On January 19, the high court had ruled that pressing the breast of a 12-year-old child without removing her clothes will only fall within the definition of outraging the modesty of a woman under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The high court noted that considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence, stricter proof and serious allegations are required. It further added the punishment for an offence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.