Authorities of Yerawada Central Prison have told the Supreme Court that the behaviour of Santosh Mane, a former Maharashtra state transport driver who is facing the death penalty, has been “normal” in the six years he has spent behind bars.
On January 25, 2012, Mane had hijacked a bus and mowed down nine persons. In 2013, a sessions court had awarded the death penalty to Mane, terming the crime “rarest of rare”. In September 2014, the Bombay High Court had upheld the death penalty and rejected the argument by the defence, which had argued that Mane should be acquitted of the murder charges as he had committed the crime while he was “mentally unsound”.
Mane, now 47 years old, had appealed to the Supreme Court against his conviction, with his lawyers Pragya Baghel and Amol Chitle arguing that his case be considered under provisions of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, which grants immunity to a person who “commits a crime while being in a state of unsound mind, thereby not knowing the nature of the act.”
A three-member Supreme Court bench had sought a report from jail authorities about Mane’s behaviour in prison as well as his medical record, to decide on the “mental unsoundness” argument put forth by his defence lawyers.
On December 6, a bench of Justice A K Sikri, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S Abdul Nazeer directed government pleaders to obtain a report from Yerawada prison on Mane’s behaviour during his incarceration. “We would like to find out as to how the petitioner has behaved after his arrest, in jail, during the intervening period from 2012 till date,” the bench had stated.
On Thursday, advocate Deepa M Kulkarni, who represented the Maharashtra government, told the bench that as per a report she has received from the superintendent of Yerawada Central Prison, Mane’s behaviour has been normal since he has been in prison. The bench then directed Mane’s lawyers to visit him in Yerawada Central Prison. “After hearing the counsel for the parties for some time, we are of the opinion that the learned counsel for the appellant should visit the jail where the appellant is lodged and have a meeting with him along with the local counsel. The jail superintendent shall arrange the meeting,” it stated.
To argue their case, Mane’s defence lawyers are relying on two reports, by doctors from the Sassoon General Hospital and Yerawada Regional Hospital, respectively, which mention that the convict has complained about ‘hallucinations’. The reports also mention the “possibility of psychiatric illness”.
The first report, based on an examination conducted on the day of the incident, had stated that Mane needed psychiatric observation, and he had complained of hallucinations and a feeling of persecution. The second report, submitted by a panel of psychiatrists from Yerawada Mental Hospital which observed Mane for 10 days after his arrest, stated that the “possibility of a psychiatric illness couldn’t be ruled out.”
The defence had also produced a Solapur-based psychiatrist, Dr Dilip Burute, whose clinic Mane visited multiple times in 2010. As per Burute’s diagnosis, Mane was treated for “mania”.
However, both the sessions court and the High Court had rejected the “insanity argument” by the defence.