New Delhi, June 20: Death row prisoner Devenderpal Singh Bhullar got a breather after the lieutenant governor of Delhi temporarily suspended his execution based on a medical board’s opinion that he suffered from ‘severe depression with psychotic symptoms’. The laws of our land in accordance with international laws forbid the execution of any individual until they’re declared physically or mentally fit.

On April 12, the Supreme Court had rejected similar medical finding and also the opinions cited by Bhullar’s lawyer who had pleaded for commutation of his death penalty to life imprisonment on the ground that the delay on the President’s part to decide his mercy plea had severely affected his health. His lawyers had relied upon the records of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, Hari Ngar and also a medical certificate issued by the Institute of Human Behaviours and Allied Sciences, Delhi.

The bench of Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya had dismissed Bhullar’s plea. It said, ‘Though the documents produced by K T S Tulsi do give an indication that on account of prolonged detention in jail after his conviction and sentence to death, the petitioner has suffered physically and mentally, the same cannot be relied upon for recording a finding that the petitioner’s mental health has deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence awarded to him cannot be executed.’

 On Bhullar’s mercy plea the bench had said, ‘Unfortunately, the petition filed by the petitioner remained pending with the President for almost six years, that is, between May 2005 and May 2011. During this period, immense pressure was brought upon the government in the form of representations made by various political and non-political functionaries, organizations and several individuals from other countries. This appears to be one of the reasons why the file remained pending in the President’s secretariat and no effort was made for deciding the petitioner’s case.’

Is Bhullar really mentally ill or is he faking it?

Of course the aforementioned laws could lead to any individual claiming mental incompetence so that he/she can escape or delay capital punishment. However, Bhullar’s doctors claim that he has been put through a series of tests periodically to ascertain his mental status.  ‘To the best of our ability, we have made all possible efforts to rule out the possibility of him feigning mental illness.’

Bhullar has attempted suicide twice in the hospital bathroom and has attempted to do so before in Tihar jail. He was also being treated with anti-depressant drugs and was undergoing regular counselling, but he has only shown marginal improvement which makes it unlikely that he has been feigning his mental illness.

‘His cognitive abilities have improved and he is able to establish rapport fairly well. So, we can say there is a minimal or marginal improvement in the symptoms of depression, but it is only to the tune of 20-30 per cent,’ a senior doctor said.  Some of his doctors also claimed that his understanding and meaning of the rejection of his mercy petition is at best ‘shadowy’ and since 2011 he has been disinterested about his fate. At most times he is confined to his hospital bed and occasionally wakes up screaming at night saying he had dreamt of being hanged.

By all accounts, it would seem that Bhullar is indeed suffering from mental illness and is in what the law calls Non compos mentis – Latin for not of sound mind.  Human rights activists claim that regardless of the nature of the crime committed it would be unlawful to execute someone who isn’t mentally fit to defend themselves. This judgement could actually set off a vicious circle because under law he won’t be executed till he’s mentally competent and Dr Desai believes that full recovery is out of the question now, ‘We cannot hope he will fully recover now because there is no hope for him with the sentence.’

Bhullar has been lodged at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IBHAS) for the last three years and is suffering from manic depression and is suffering from ‘depression with psychotic features’ and has exhibited suicidal behaviour on numerous occasions. A TOI report from 2011 suggests that he had tried to commit suicide at least twice in four months on IBHAS premises. Before that he had attempted to commit suicide several times in Tihar Jail.  The decision not to have a current medical report was lambasted by experts all over the country. Dr Nimesh Desai, Director of IHBAS, said: ‘As per norms, if and when there is an order by a court for medical opinion on any of our prisoners, we constitute a medical board that puts together a cumulative opinion. In Bhullar’s case, such a board was never constituted because there was no order from the judiciary.’

Who is Devinderpal Singh Bhullar?

Bhullar was a Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist who triggered a bomb blast at youth Congress office in Delhi in September 1993 which killed nine people and injured 25 others. The main target, Maninderjit Singh Bitta – an outspoken opponent of the Khalistan movement was injured in the attack. The Khalistan movement is a secessionist movement that wanted a separate nation called Khalistan for the Punjabi speaking populace.