After reports emerged of a Delhi-bound Jet Airways flight being diverted to Ahmedabad due to a hijack scare, lawyers scrambled to find copies of a little-used law under which the suspect was booked.
Passed in 2016, the Anti-Hijacking Act replaced the older 1982 law, which allowed for hijackers to be tried for the death penalty only in the event of death of hostages, such as flight crew, passengers and security personnel. Interestingly, while the Act was passed in 2016, it only came into effect in July 2017 after the government framed the requisite rules.
In the new law, the definition of hijacking has been expanded to include death of "security personnel on board" or "ground support staff" as well. In other cases of hijacking, the guilty will be punished with imprisonment for life and fine, besides confiscation of movable and immovable property held by him or her.
Extended definition of hijacking
The Act also gives Indian courts universal jurisdiction as they can apply this law in cases the hijacker is Indian, or if the hijacked aircraft is registered in India or if any foreign registered aircraft lands in India with the alleged offender still on board or when the aircraft is hijacked anywhere in the world and an Indian citizen is on board.
The new law includes several acts within the definition of hijacking including making a threat, attempts or abetment to commit the offence. Those who organise or direct others to commit such offence will also be considered to have committed the offence of hijacking.
The Act applies from the beginning of the pre-flight preparation of the aircraft until 24 hours after any landing. Further, in cases of a forced landing, the flight shall be deemed to continue until the authorities take over the responsibility for the aircraft and for persons and property on board.
The law also mandates the central government to confer powers of investigation, arrest and prosecution on any officer of the central government or the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The Act also allows the Indian Air Force to scramble its fighters to intercept a hijacked aircraft and force it to land. It can also shoot down a hostile plane if there is evidence that it could be used as a missile to hit a vital installation.
Act was under consideration for 15 years
According to Livemint, the law has been under consideration for around 15 years after incidents like the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999 and the 11 September, 2001 terror strikes in the United States, reflecting major threats like civilian aircraft being hijacked and used as missiles to cause mass destruction.
Apart from the practical necessities of passing the law, it also fulfilled India's treaty obligations under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, 1970 as well as the Beijing Protocol, 2010.
The law still has some weaknesses as detailed by The Wire. The first of these is the non-inclusion of any aircraft that is used in customs or police service. It also doesn't punish hoax calls which can cause a lot of trouble to the public and the security forces.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Oct 31, 2017 13:27:34 IST