Anti-Hijacking Bill: Tackling Terror in the Skies

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Seventeen years after the hijacking of IC-814, India has passed this stringent bill to tackle hijackers. It should now ensure that its provisions are seriously implemented
By Shobha John


In an attempt to make Indian skies safer, both houses of parliament passed the Anti-Hijacking Bill, 2014. While it was passed in the Lok Sabha on May 9, the Rajya Sabha okayed it on May 4. This shows how serious India is about tackling this terror. After all, India was the target of a major hijack way back in December 1999 when IC-814, an Indian Airlines plane, was hijacked by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a terrorist group, from Kathmandu. It was flown to Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai before finally landing in Taliban country in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Indian government was forced to release three terrorists—Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtak Ahmad Zargar—in return for the passengers. The attack left one passenger dead and many traumatized.

DEATH PENALTY

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Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attack

The Bill provides for death penalty to offenders in case hostages or security personnel die, as well as life imprisonment. It also provides for confiscation of movable and immovable property of the accused. Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told the Lok Sabha that India had witnessed 19 hijacking incidents. In addition, there have been numerous other hijacking incidents the world over, the main one being the 9/11 attacks in the US. Such incidents led to the need to reassess the existing strategies.

The Bill provides stringent punishment to the hijackers. In fact, nothing less than death penalty will be handed out to them even if ground handling and airport staff are killed during the hijacking. This is one up on the earlier Bill where hijackers could be tried for death penalty only if flight crew, passengers and security personnel were killed.

Incidentally, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft was signed at The Hague on December 16, 1970, and India enacted the Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982 to give effect to the provisions of this Convention. The 1982 law was later repealed and a new bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Raju in December 2014.

The 2014 Bill defines hijacking as seizing an aircraft in service, unlawfully and intentionally, either by technological means or through force, coercion or any other form of intimidation. The Bill also expanded the term “in service” for a plane—from the time of pre-flight preparation by the crew or ground personnel until 24 hours after the plane lands.

The definition of hijacking includes an attempt and abetment of hijacking; making a credible threat to commit hijacking; organizing or directing others to commit hijacking or agreeing with another to commit the offense and acting on the agreement.

 

HIJACKERS AND ACCOMPLICES

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Taliban militia in front of the hijacked IC-814 in Kandahar in December 1999

The Bill expands the definition of a hijacker to include individuals acting in concert with hijackers. It will include a person who organizes or directs others to commit hijacking, who participates in a hijacking as an accomplice and who assists any person to evade investigation, prosecution and punishment in a hijacking case.
The Bill says that whoever commits hijacking will be punished with: (i) death where such an offense leads to the death of a hostage or a security personnel; (ii) life imprisonment (iii) moveable and immoveable property of the accused is also liable to be confiscated.

So where can the jurisdiction of such acts be exercised? It can be done if the offense is committed: (i) in India; (ii) against or on board an aircraft registered in India; (iii) on board an aircraft which lands in India with the accused still on board; (iv) by or against an Indian citizen; (v) by a person who is present in India. The jurisdiction has been enhanced to include an offense against or by an Indian citizen on board a flight anywhere, irrespective of the country where the offense has been committed.

(L-R) In the IC-814 hijacking, India was forced to release three terrorists-Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtak Ahmad Zargar-in return for the release of passengers of this flight
(L-R) In the IC-814 hijacking, India was forced to release three terrorists-Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtak Ahmad Zargar-in return for the release of passengers of this flight

The Bill states that before prosecuting an accused for hijacking or related offenses, sanction must be taken from the central government. Investigation, arrest and prosecution can be done by any officer of the central government or the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The officer can order seizure or attachment of property of the offender.

If the investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours, a judicial magistrate may authorize detention up to 30 days. An executive magistrate may authorize detention up to seven days. Also, the accused cannot be released on bail or bond unless: (i) the public prosecutor has had an opportunity to oppose the release; and (ii) if the release has been opposed, the designated court is satisfied that the accused is innocent.

The person held will be presumed guilty if (i) arms, ammunition or explosives are recovered from the accused and there is reason to believe that these were used in the hijacking (ii) there is evidence that he intimidated the crew or passengers during the hijacking.

Incidentally, in hijacking offenses, one country may transfer the accused to another country’s legal jurisdiction. Requests for extradition, says the Bill, cannot be refused on the ground that hijacking is a political offense or is connected to a political offense.

Hopefully, this anti-hijacking bill will make flying safer.


“India should have an Aviation Security Force”

The commander of the hijacked IC-814, CAPT DEVI SHARAN, tells SHOBHA JOHN the measures needed to beef up security at airports

Capt Devi Sharan
Capt Devi Sharan

The stringent Anti-Hijacking Bill 2014 has been welcomed by Capt Devi Sharan, the commander of the hijacked IC-814. Presently flying the Dreamliners for Air India, he said that the provisions of this vital Bill should be implemented seriously if aviation security has to be beefed up.

“Aviation has boomed in India over the last few years with more passengers flying and an increase in planes. It is, therefore, important that this Bill be taken seriously,” he said. “It is high time that India, like other countries, has an Aviation Security Force (ASF) which is dedicated and trained specially to secure airports, planes and surrounding areas.”

While there has been talk of an ASF for India over the last few years, nothing much has come out of it. In fact, a few years ago, experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization had done a study in India and suggested the establishment of an ASF under the ministry of civil aviation. It was supposed to be integrated with the aviation industry and would have replaced the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which presently looks after airport security. The CISF was chosen for this job after IC-814 was hijacked.

Capt Sharan said that while the CISF is doing a fine job of security at airports presently, it is mainly trained for industrial security. “When a hijack takes place, we need a force which is familiar with the layout of the airport, which has some knowledge about planes, different variants of jets, knows their exit and entry points and how to secure them. Prevention is better than cure. When the 1999 hijack took place, we were waiting for some 49 minutes at Amritsar for the government to tell us what to do. There was some confusion and then the hijackers told me to take off for Lahore. If there was an ASF, they would have stormed the plane and released the passengers,” he said.

Capt Sharan suggested that full body scanners be installed at airports, like it is done abroad. These are devices to detect suspicious objects such as explosives, guns and knives on a person’s body without physically removing the clothes. He also suggested that there be fewer entry points into an airport so that checking can be more rigorous.
Asked about the role of air marshals, he said that they were there on some flights. “We still don’t know their efficacy for the simple reason that there has been no major hijack where their role can be tested.” And while crew is given courses on flight security, he said, it was nothing compared to Israel where even flight crew are experts in karate and judo. Interestingly, flight crew of Hong Kong Airlines is trained in martial arts to fight off aggressive flyers.

It is obvious that India still has a long way to fly.


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