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A Jet Airways passenger aircraft prepares to land at the airport in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 12, 2013. [Representational Image]Reuters file

The new anti-hijacking law has finally come into force following a government notification. The Anti-Hijacking Act 2016, which came into force on Friday, prescribes capital punishment in the event of the death of "any person."

The Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 9, gives effect to the Hague Convention of 1971 and the Beijing Protocol of 2010.

Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had introduced a bill to repeal the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 in the Rajya Sabha on December 17, 2014. The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on May 4, 2015, after a parliamentary panel submitted its report in March 2015.

New provisions of the law

The new law expands the definition and scope of the term 'hijacking'. Under the Anti-Hijacking Act 2016, a threat to commit hijacking will also be considered an offence as will intentionally or unlawfully causing any individual to receive a threat that could be seen as a credible one.

The new law has also introduced universal jurisdiction, which means that it has brought under its purview the following situations:

  • if the hijacker is an Indian
  • if the aircraft that has been hijacked is registered in India
  • if any foreign aircraft lands in India with the alleged hijacker on board
  • if an Indian citizen is on board any aircraft that is hijacked anywhere in the world

The new law has also included and defined the term 'in service' stating that an aircraft will be considered in service from the time when the ground personnel or the in-flight crew begin the pre-flight preparation until 24 hours after landing. The flight will continue to be in service in the event of a forced landing until the concerned authorities take responsibility for the aircraft, the passengers and property on board.

Punishment under the new law

Kandahar Plane Hijack
Armed soldiers from the Taliban Islamic militia take up positions near the hijacked Indian Airlines plane at Kandahar airport. [Representational Image]Reuters

The new law prescribes capital punishment if the offence causes the death of a hostage or security personnel, and life imprisonment in all other cases. The death penalty will also be given to conspirators and abductors of any of the acts of hijacking in an attempt to bring all those directly or indirectly involved in the act of justice.

The new law has replaced a 1982 law, which stated that hijackers could be prosecuted only in the event of the death of hostages, including passengers, flight crew and security personnel. However, the new law states that hijackers will be prosecuted in the event of the death of "security personnel on board" or "ground support staff" as well.

In addition, those who help organise or direct others to commit the offence of hijacking will also be held guilty of abetment of hijacking under the new law. Making threats, attempts or abetment to commit the offence of hijacking have also been included in the new act.

In other hijacking cases, those guilty will be sentenced to life and also be charged a fine. In a first, all movable and immovable property held by the guilty will also be confiscated.

In addition, the Centre can now confer powers of investigation, arrest and prosecution on any officer of the central government or the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The new law also provides for a designated court for speedy trial of the offences in connection with hijacking. The alleged offender will be tried by a sessions court, which would be notified to function as a designated court by the concerned state government. The designated court shall hold the trial on a daily basis.

Drawbacks of the new law

However, there are a few drawbacks in the new law. While it includes any aircraft irrespective of whether it's registered in India or not, it does not have any mention of aircraft that is used in customs and the police service.

Hoax calls threatening hijack have not been covered under the new law. Such calls create panic and complications among passengers and also cause immense trouble to security agencies, which end up wasting a lot of time, energy and resources to verify the authenticity of the call.