Given the brutal and barbaric manner of commission of the crime, the gravity of the offence itself, the abuse of the victims’ trust by the petitioner, and his tendency to commit such offences as is evident from his past conduct, it is extremely clear that the petitioner poses such a grave threat to society that he cannot be allowed to roam free at any point whatsoever.
A 3-JUDGE bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice N V Ramana, Justice Mohan M Shantanagouder and Indira Banerjee have partly allowed the review petition in the case – Accused ‘X’ v. State of Maharashtra, through their judgment delivered on April 12, 2019, with direction to the Government of Maharashtra to consider the case of the accused under the appropriate provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and if found entitled, provide for his rights under that enactment. The apex court has allowed the petition to the extent that the sentence of death awarded to the petitioner has been commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life without any right to remission.
On hearing this petition, the court was of the opinion that there was no merit in the petitioner’s submissions against the order of conviction, and it was therefore decided that this court would hear only on the aspects of sentencing pertaining to two issues. The first relates to the implications of non-compliance of Section 235(2) of the Cr.P.C. during the sentencing process before the trial court. The second issue concerns the mental illness of the ‘accused-X’ which was raised for the first time in this review petition after the judgment of this court in the earlier round. The court has pointed out that under the Section 20(1) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, there is a statutory right for mentally-ill person to live with dignity .
The act explicitly provides for that. Further, it has also stated that post-conviction mental illness will be a mitigating factor while considering appeals of death convicts. In line with Section 23(1) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and the right to privacy therein, the court has directed its registry not to disclose the actual name of the accused and other pertinent information which could lead to his identification as it concerns confidential information.
The court addressed the accused as ‘accused-X’. The court has stated that the expert opinion offered by a psychiatrist registered with the Maharashtra Medical Council working as a coordinator of the centre for Mental Health, Law and Policy of the Indian Law Society, Pune does not provide any further clarity. Even though the court was not satisfied with the statements made by doctors as the assessment seems to be incomplete. However, it is to be noted that the present accused has been reeling under bouts of some form of mental irritability since 1994, as is apparent from the records placed before the court. Moreover, he has suffered long incarceration as well as a death row convict.
In the totality of circumstances, the court did not consider it appropriate to constitute a panel for re-assessment of his mental condition, in the facts and circumstances of this case. The court has said that at the same time it cannot lose sight of the fact that a sentence of life imprisonment simpliciter would be grossly inadequate in this case. Given the brutal and barbaric manner of commission of the crime, the gravity of the offence itself, the abuse of the victims’ trust by the petitioner, and his tendency to commit such offences as is evident from his past conduct, it is extremely clear that the petitioner poses such a grave threat to society that he cannot be allowed to roam free at any point whatsoever. In this view of the matter the court deemed it fit to direct that the petitioner shall remain in prison for the remainder of his life.
It need not be stated that this court has in a plethora of decisions has held such an approach to be perfectly within its power to adopt, and that it acts as a useful via media between the imposition of the death penalty and life imprisonment simpliciter (which usually works out to 14 years in prison upon remission). It is this state of ‘accused-X’ that obliges the State to as parens patriae. In this state, ‘accused –X’ cannot be ignored and left to rot away, rather, he requires care and treatment. Generally it needs to be understood that prisoners tend to have increased affinity to mental illness. Moreover, due to legal constraints on the recognition of broad- spectrum mental illness within the Criminal Justice System, prisons inevitably become home for a greater number of mentally-ill prisoners of various degrees. There is no overlooking of the fact that the realities within the prison walls may well compound and complicate these problems.
In order to address the same, the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was brought into force. The aspiration of the act was to provide mental health care facility for those who are in need including prisoners. The State Governments are obliged under Section 103 of the Act to set up a mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union Territory, and prisoners with mental illness may ordinarily be referred to and cared for in the said mental health establishment. The proceedings in this case pertain to the reopening of Review Petition (Criminal)301/2008 to review the final judgment and order of May 16, 2008 passed by the Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No.680/2007 dismissing the appeal filed by the review petitioner and confirming his conviction under Sections 201, 363, 376 and 302 of the IPC.
Through the impugned judgment, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 2 years’ RI each under Sections 201 and 363, 10 years’ RI under Section 376 and the death sentence under Section 302 IPC imposed upon the petitioner. Through the petition complex questions concerning the relationship between mental illness and crime were raised. How can culpability be assessed for sentencing those with mental illness? Is treatment better suited than punishment? These are some of the questions, which the court was called upon to answer in this case. On December 13, 1999, at Gulumb in Maharashtra, at about 6 PM, the petitioner had gone to the grocery shop run by Sunil ,with his daughter Reshma , where he met the two deceased girls (studying in Standard one and 4) and on the pretext of offering sweets , he led them to accompany him.
Thereafter he committed rape and murder of both girls, and threw the victim 2’s body in a well in the field of Sakharam Yadav’s father and concealed the body of victim-1 in thick shrubs.The trial court convicted the petitioner on the basis of the ‘last seen’ evidence and its finding that all the circumstances in the case formed a complete chain pointing to the guilt of the petitioner. The HC confirmed the conviction and sentence including the capital sentence in appeal. The Supreme Court also confirmed the same and the same 3-judge bench dismissed the review petition on November 19, 2008. Thereafter this criminal Misc. petition came to be filed seeking re-opening of this review petition, placing reliance on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case – Mohd. Arif v. The Registrar, Supreme Court (2014) 9 SCC 737. In that judgment of it was held that in light of Article 21, review petitions in death sentence cases were required to be heard orally by a 3-judge bench, and specifically permitted the reopening of review petitions in all cases where review petitions had been dismissed by circulation. This review petition was heard orally in the open court. The apex court partly allowed the review petition and also disposed of the other pending applications.