The Lok Sabha Monday passed the Anti-Hijacking Bill, 2016, that broadens the definition of hijacking to include technological interventions and intimidation and introduces the provision of death penalty for perpetrators. The Bill got the Rajya Sabha nod last week.
Piloting the bill, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said the government was trying to deal with the problem of security of airports through a mix of technology and manpower.
Dismissing suggestions that there should be no death penalty provision in hijacking cases, he noted that the country had witnessed 19 hijacking incidents. “Death penalty has been brought in where if a death occurs—it could be a policeman, it could be a passenger, it could be anyone—then the people who perpetrate this nefarious act ought to be sentenced to death,” he said. The death penalty provision, as per the new bill, will apply even if ground staff and airport personnel are killed.
Participating in the debate, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury began his speech by referring to Neerja Bhanot, the 23-year-old air hostess of a Pan Am airlines who was killed by hijackers of a flight in 1986.
“Neerja Bhanot had laid down her life for securing the lives of the passengers of a hijacked aircraft. This aspect of hijacking still looms large and is a frightening reality even today,” he said.
Chowdhury went on to say that a bill on the issue was first brought by the UPA in 2010. He also expressed concern over screening machines at Indian airports, saying they were not “foolproof”.
A number of MPs referred to Neerja Bhanot during their speeches and also to the recent movie that was based on the 1986 hijack.
TMC’s Saugata Roy appreciated the minister for widening the definition of hijacking. “I am happy that the Bill includes this matter – ‘whoever unlawfully and intentionally seizes or exercise control of an aircraft in service by force or threat thereof, or by coercion, or by any other form of intimidation, or by any technological means, commits the offence of hijacking.’ For the first time, in this Bill, this technological means of electronic warfare has been mentioned,” he said.
BJD’s Tathagata Satpathy wanted a special force to be trained to handle airport security. BJP MP and former home secretary R K Singh said the government has a specially trained force to deal with such situations. But added: “We should have a policy that we do not negotiate with hijackers.”
The government, the minister said, has developed a contingency plan to deal with hijacking.