Mumbai: In a controversial order that could have implications on a range of cases, the Bombay High Court has said groping a minor's breast without "skin to skin contact" cannot be termed as sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, in a judgement passed on January 19, the detailed copy of which was made available now, held that there must be "skin to skin contact with sexual intent" for an act to be considered sexual assault.

She said in her verdict that mere groping will not fall under the definition of sexual assault.

Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of Nagpur bench of the HC said “stricter proof and serious allegations are required’’ given the stringent punishment of three to five years’ imprisonment that ‘sexual assault’ under the Pocso Act entails.

“Evidently, it is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant removed her top and pressed her breast,” said Justice Ganediwala adding, “The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault’”.

The court of Extra Joint Additional Sessions Judge had found Ragde, 39, guilty of offence of sexual assault of the 12-year-old girl under POCSO along with Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty); 363 (punishment for kidnapping); and 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The girl had testified that she was lured on a false pretext by the accused to his house. She said he had tried to remove her salwar and had pressed her breast. She tried to shout, but he covered her mouth and left the room after bolting the door from outside. Her mother went to his house while looking for her. She had seen the accused leave, and on reaching the first floor found the door bolted from outside and her daughter crying inside. She then went to the police station along with her daughter to lodge an FIR, noted the HC.

While section 354 entails a minimum sentence of imprisonment for one year, sexual assault under the POCSO Act entails a minimum imprisonment of three years.