The parliament gave nod to the Anti-Hijacking Bill that provides for death penalty to the offenders in case of death of hostages or security personnel with the Lok Sabha giving its assent to the legislation on Monday.
The bill, which also has life imprisonment as punishment for the offence as well as confiscation of movable and immovable property of the accused, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on December 17, 2014 and cleared by the upper house of the parliament on May 5.
Raju said with the bill’s passage, the definition of “hijack” has been widened and penalties enhanced.
“We will continue to ensure safety of Indian skies,” he said.
The bill amends the 1982 act which only provided for death penalty for the hijackers only in the event of death of the hostages.
The Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 had undergone minor changes in 1994. But the need for giving “more teeth” to law-enforcing agencies vis-a-vis aircraft hijacking was felt in India after the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 on December 24, 1999.
The use of planes the 9/11 attacked also pushed the need to amend existing anti-hijacking laws.
Under the new law, the central government may confer powers of investigation, arrest and prosecution on any officer of the central government or the National Investigation Agency. It also says an accused cannot be released on bail or bond unless among other things, the designated court is satisfied that there is reason to believe the accused is innocent and is unlikely to commit any offence while on bail.
The accused in the hijacking cases have to be tried by a sessions court which is notified to be a designated court by the state government concerned. “In case the investigation is carried out by the National Investigation Agency, the designated court shall be a court set up under the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008,” the bill reads.
During the debate, members cutting across party lines also remembered Neerja Bhanot, a Pan Am air hostess who died saving passengers on a hijacked flight in 1986.
Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said she sacrificed her life while securing the passengers, while Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress said she was a courageous woman.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi member B.N. Goud said the US-based Pan Am did not provide any compensation to Indian crew members.
Bhanot, the senior-most flight attendant on board a Pan Am Mumbai-New York flight, was shot dead by terrorists who had hijacked the flight in Karachi on September 5, 1986.
She also later became the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra.