Mumbai: The Bombay High Court Tuesday confirmed the death sentence on Pune rogue driver Santosh M. Mane, who hijacked a state transport bus and killed nine people, besides injuring 36 others, two years ago in Pune.
A division bench comprising Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice P.D. Kode termed it as "the rarest of rare cases" and upheld and confirmed the verdict of the Pune Additional Sessions Court giving the death penalty to the accused.
"This is an exceptional and rarest of rare cases where the crime is so cruel, diabolical and revolting so as to shock the collective conscience of the society. In rarest of rare cases where collective conscience of the community is so shocked, it expects the court to inflict death penalty irrespective of its personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining the death penalty," Justice Ranade and Justice Kode observed in their landmark ruling Tuesday.
The incident happened at 8.15 a.m. Jan 25, 2012 after Mane, a driver with the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) was denied a change from night duty to day duty by his superiors.
In a fit of rage, he hijacked the bus from the busy Swargate Bus Depot in the heart of the city and drove wildly on the wrong side and on one-way routes for 16 km before he was forced to a stop.
Pune city and traffic police gave a hot chase to Mane, ordering him to stop and even fired six rounds at the bus tyres and even aimed at him (Mane), but he ignored the warnings and continued to speed on the crowded roads.
Mane (now 38) was somehow stopped by stunned members of the public who started thrashing him for the havoc inflicted on human lives and property before the police apprehended him.
The 16-km-long "joy-ride" (as mentioned in the judgment) lasting 45 minutes, killed nine pedestrians and injured 36 more, including some maimed permanently, damaged or destroyed private and government vehicles besides public and private properties en route.
Pune Additional Sessions Judge V.K. Shevale April 3, 2013 found Mane guilty of the prosecution charges and pronounced the death verdict April 8.
Judge Shevale had rejected a plea by the accused that he was of "unsound mind" and even passed strictures on defence witness - psychiatrist Dilip Burte - for giving false evidence in the court.
The case came up for confirmation before the Bombay High Court in September 2013 where Mane pleaded that he was not given a proper hearing by the Additional Sessions Court "on the point of sentencing".
Setting aside the death sentence, the Bombay High Court referred the matter back to Pune trial court with orders to give Mane a proper hearing.
The Pune trial court Dec 11, 2013 again pronounced him guilty and awarded the death sentence (given eight months before).
Mane also underwent three medical check-ups at a Pune government mental hospital to verify his claims of being "mentally unsound" and all the reports came negative, proving he was mentally stable at the time of the incident and during the trial.
At one point, he even claimed that he was under the influence of "black magic", but the court dismissed it saying the claim did not fall under "hallucination".
Upholding the trial court's ruling, Justice Kanade and Justice Kode said that the magnitude of the crime cannot be brushed aside on the ground of (Mane's) false plea of insanity.
The judges said: "If such (dastardly and inhuman) acts are condoned by commutation of death penalty, it definitely would send wrong signals to the society that individuals can take law into their own hands and get away with it on some misplaced and misconceived notions of sympathy...."