The Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence awarded to Santosh Mane, convicted of mowing down and killing nine persons in Pune in 2012, to life imprisonment. Mane had been awarded the death sentence by a sessions court in 2013, which had said the crime fell in the rarest of rare’ category. A year later, the Bombay High Court had upheld the death penalty. It had rejected the plea 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’.
On January 25, 2012, Mane, then 41 years old, had hijacked a state transport bus and mowed down nine persons with it. Mane, who was a state transport bus driver, had reported to work around 7 am at the Swargate bus depot, instead of his scheduled time of 10.30 am.
He had taken out a bus from the depot using a master key and then gone on a rampage, knocking down many two-wheelers, four-wheelers and pedestrians on the route, before he was stopped by local residents and police. By that time, Mane had traversed 15 km, across Golibar Maidan, Bhavani Peth, Gultekdi, Satara Road and Sinhagad Road. As many as 37 persons were injured in the incident.
Amol Chitale, who represented Mane in the Supreme Court, told The Indian Express over the phone, “Since the beginning, the defence’s plea was that at the time of committing the offence, Mane was not mentally stable and so Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code should have been applied. However, the trial court and the High Court had rejected this plea and had awarded the death penalty to him.”
IPC’s Section 84 states that ‘nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.’
Chitale added, “In the Supreme Court, we continued our defence on the same tenet, that at the time of the offence, he was mentally unsound… this was brought to light from observations when he was under psychiatric evaluation for some days after the incident. Today, the Supreme Court has commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. The detailed judgement is yet to come.” Nishant Katneshwarkar, the standing counsel for the state of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court, said, “In our submission, we had opposed the defence’s plea of insanity. We argued that both the trial court and the High Court had considered the documents pertaining to the case and had rejected the plea that he was unstable.”
Advocate Dhananjay Mane from Solapur, who represented Mane in the trial court and also in the High Court, said, “It has been a long battle to prove that at the time of the incident, he was not in a sound state of mind. Police have tried all the ways to prove that he was not unstable. We welcome the Supreme Court’s verdict and will comment further after the detailed order.”
What Happened That Day
On the morning of January 25, 2012, some time after 7 am, Mane started the MSRTC bus using a ‘master key’. Then he started driving the bus on the wrong side of Shankar Sheth Road, towards Hotel Seven Loves, where he knocked down a vehicle. A local resident, who saw the incident, contacted the police control room at 8.05 am. Soon, two policemen on a motorcycle started chasing the bus.
However, Mane continued to drive the bus at a high speed, and on the wrong side of the road in some stretches. He travelled about 15 km via Golibar Maidan, Bhavani Peth, Gultekdi, Maharashi Nagar, Satara Road, Mitramandal Chowk, Sarasbag, Sinhagad Road, knocking down two-wheelers, cars and pedestrians on the route.
To stop the bus, Police Constable Deepak Kakade fired 10 rounds from his 9-mm carbine gun, but Mane did not stop. However, he was forced to slow down after the bus collided with two cars on Sinhagad Road. This helped local residents and police, who had given him chase, to overtake the vehicle and pull Mane out of the bus, at around 8.45 pm. Mane was taken into police custody and his victims were rushed to different hospitals in the city for treatment.
Mane’s ‘History of Illness’
While MSRTC officials claimed that Mane, a bus driver with the state transport service, was normal and had no history of medical problems, his wife and doctor had claimed that he was under stress and suffering from mental illness for the last two years. Mane was being treated by Dr Dilip Burate, a psychiatrist in Solapur.
Speaking to the The Indian Express over the phone at the time, Burate had said, “Mane had come to me with complaints of hallucinations and was also saying many irrelevant things, as I remember the case and based on the documents that I have. He had come to me for a month… and I had given him medications. After that, he didn’t come.” When The Indian Express contacted Burate on Wednesday, he expressed his unwillingness to comment on the issue. Mane’s wife Sonali had said at the time of the incident, he was under severe stress due to work. “He had repeatedly requested the MSRTC not to give him driving duty on long routes. But he was forced to drive buses on long routes. He had faced problems earlier also due to work-related stress. So, he had also taken a month-long leave for treatment,” she had said at the time. Mane’s family members could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.