India's Supreme Court demands action on acid attacks

India's top court criticised the government on Tuesday for failing to formulate a policy to reduce the number of acid attacks on women, which are often carried out by jilted boyfriends or their relatives.

The Supreme Court rebuked the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for failing to consider regulating the sale of acid used in the assaults, which leave the victims permanently disfigured.

"Girls are dying every day and the central government and state governments are not serious," a two-judge bench comprising justices R.M Lodha and S.J. Mukhopadhaya said in a statement.

According to the London-based charity Acid Survivors Trust International, about 1,500 acid attacks are reported globally each year, while groups in India say the problem is growing locally.

The judges demanded that the cabinet prepare a new scheme to curb attacks and provide support to victims by July 16.

Otherwise, they threatened to pass a legally binding order compelling the government to take action.

An acid called "Tezaab", which is designed to clean rusted tools, is commonly used in assaults, local campaign groups say.

In the wake of a horrifying gang-rape in New Delhi in December, parliament voted to toughen laws to protect women including doubling the minimum prison sentence for gang-rape to 20 years.

But lawmakers voted against increasing the punishment for acid attackers.

They can be jailed for eight to 12 years depending on the injuries inflicted, but the offence is bailable.

In one such incident, four sisters walking home in northern India in April suffered severe burns after being attacked with acid by two men on a motorbike.

In 2011 neighbouring Pakistan adopted legislation increasing the punishment for acid attackers to between 14 years and life in jail and a minimum fine of one million Pakistan rupees ($10,000).