Explained: Anti-Hijacking Act

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

On the 14th of November, 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had filed a case against a resident of Chennai for hoax calling the Delhi Airport, in August, to prevent his wife from leaving the country, for some work related purpose.

Nasrudeen had made the call saying, a woman named Zabina, who had reached the airport was a suicide bomber and could cause a blast on a Saudi Arabia bound flight. This case was investigated under the Anti-Hijacking Act of 2016 and was the second such case.

This article sheds light on the features, origin, causes of origin of the said Act and the cases registered under it.

Salient features of the act:

The Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016 repealed the Act of 1982 and tightened India’s security against the incidents of hijacking, a global threat. The new Act enforces The Hague Convention of 1971 and the Beijing Protocol of 2010 to cause some radical changes in the outdated legislation of 1982.

The new definition of hijacking under Section 3 of the Act refers to “seizing control of an aircraft in service, unlawfully and intentionally, by technological means or by exercising force, coercion, or any other form of intimidation”.

The additions here include the term “technological means” which makes it clear that the hijacker isn’t just someone who’s inside the aircraft, it can be someone outside it as well and specifying that even the abettors to the crime would be punishable.

The terms “in service” aircraft refers to the aircraft from the time of its pre-flight preparations by the ground personnel to 24 hours post any of its landings and “aircraft” covers under its ambit all aircrafts except military aircraft or an aircraft used in customs or police service.

The universal jurisdiction means that this law would be applicable if 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.

Under Section 4, the Act specifies capital punishment for all cases where hijacking leads to the death of any individual. This also applies to the abettors and conspirators of the crime. Life imprisonment which may extend up to confiscation of both movable and immovable property along with imposition of fine, has been suggested as an alternative.

Cases that led to the implementation of the act:

The hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 in December, 1999 had made the government feel the need to beef up the security regarding the hijacking act. It was after this incident only that the Act was amended to include capital punishment as a penalty. Further, the incident of 9/11 in 2001, where aircrafts had been used as weapons, created a sense of urgency necessary amendments to the Act.

The brief facts of the Kandahar incident involve the following. The Indian Airlines Airbus A300 which was en route from Kathmandu, Nepal to Delhi, India on 24th December, 1999 was hijacked and landed in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai before finally landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan which was under the control of Taliban, back then.

The five Pakistani hijackers had held the 182 passengers and crew on board, hostage for almost 192 hours. In Dubai, the hijackers stabbed one of the hostages while fatally wounding many others. The hijackers finally released the hostages after India agreed to their demands and released the three militants, namely, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Mulana Masood Azhar.

This move of the Vajpayee government even though is understandable because of the tremendous public pressure faced by it, it has also been criticized by many critics who were of the view that Indian Government mustn’t have caved in to the demands of the hijackers, considering the aftermath of meeting such demand— 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament:  The perptraturs belonged to Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Previously noted cases under the act:

As mentioned earlier, there have been two cases which have been registered under this Act.

The first case is that of a businessman named Birju Kishor Salla who had threatened to hijack a Delhi-bound Jet Airways flight in 2017. The convict had placed a note in the washroom of the plane that said, “There are hijackers on board and explosives on the plane”. This was found by an air-hostess and brought to the notice of the Captain who had made an emergency landing in Ahmedabad. Initially, the case was being investigated by the crime branch since the convict was arrested on the basis of suspicion.  

After this, the NIA re-registered the case under sections 3(1), 3(2)(a) and 4(b) of Anti Hijacking Act 2016 and took over the investigation later that year. The convict was then awarded the punishment of life imprisonment and a fine amounting to Rs.5 crore.

The second case is the one that has been mentioned in the beginning of the article. In August, 2019, Nasrudeen had hoax called the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) and informed them that a woman named Zabeena, who was present at the airport, was a suicide bomber. The case was initially probed by the Gurugram police.

According to the investigations, Nasrudeen and Zabina had got married in 2017. Few years into the marriage, the two had disputes regarding financial matters. Zabina wanted to settle abroad and earn better but Nasrudeen had other plans. The hoax call was his final try to keep his wife from leaving the country.

Criticism:

Even though the Act of 2016 is much wider than the Act of 1982, which was last amended in 1992, it too has its own share of shortcomings.

For example, the exclusion of the aircrafts belonging to the customs or police service doesn’t make much sense and it would have been better had those been included. Even though, punishment has been meted out to the hoax callers in the previous cases, it would have been way more convenient if the Act covered the same with some proportionate punishment.

Next, the Act speaks of only the passengers and on-board crew. There’s no mention about how the ground staff or security personnel would be protected in case of a hijack. Lastly, the widened jurisdiction of the Act does not provide extra-territorial status or immunity from jurisdiction for the benefit of the passengers and the crew in the state to which an aircraft may be hijacked.

Conclusion:

India has witnessed 19 hijacks up till now and it was high time that the country tightened the laws regarding it. The new law brings in both technological as well as manpower resources to work more vigilantly for the security of its passengers. Hijacking is a rising global issue and causes major losses to the country which faces it; with a new stringent law, India has only strengthened its stand against this rising evil.

Let’s hope we don’t have to test the applicability of these laws anytime soon.

–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Disha Mohanty from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.

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