The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the acquittal of a man from charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, in the skin-to-skin groping case observing that the Bombay High Court's verdict was "unprecedented and likely to set a dangerous precedent".
The top court's order came after Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal mentioned the matter before Chief Justice of India SA Bobde submitting that the high court's conclusion was "very disturbing". Venugopal said high court's decision could be disturbingly misused by offenders in the future to say that POCSO case does not apply if a victim is molested fully clothed.
"Bombay High Court ruled that there was no skin-to-skin contact. The AG states that the order is unprecedented and is likely to present a dangerous precedent…," the court said. The top court then issued notice to the accused and permitted the AG to file a plea against the order.
On January 19, Justice Pushpa Ganediwala at the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court acquitted an offender of charges under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and charged him under the comparatively lenient provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. She held that groping a minor's breast without disrobing her would amount to molestation under the IPC and not sexual assault as envisioned under the POCSO act. The alleged misinterpretation of what is a sexual assault against a minor has caused great consternation among many.
Separately, the Youth Bar Association has also challenged the high court's verdict in the Supreme Court against the "unwarranted observations" recorded by the high court "concerning the modesty of a girl child". The plea said the high court's observations were not only derogatory and defamatory but also in utter disregard to the applicable laws.