A chartered accountant, who threatened the crew and passengers of a Goa-Delhi Indigo flight on February 1, 2009, in mid-air, by making wild claims of carrying “infected needles” and being a Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official forcing the pilot to trigger the hijack alarm, was on Tuesday sentenced to life imprisonment by a Sessions court in New Delhi.

District and Additional Sessions Judge I.S. Mehta said: “The accused Jitender Kumar Mohla is awarded life imprisonment under Section 3(1)(d) of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.” Section 3(1)(d) criminalises the making of claims known to be false so as to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight. A fine of Rs.7,000 was also imposed on the convict.

The court had, last week, also convicted Mohla for endangering personal safety of others, criminal intimidation and impersonating a public servant but acquitted him of offences under the Anti-Hijacking Act noting that there was no evidence that he had entered the cockpit nor was anything recovered from his possession at the time of arrest.

Pronouncing the order on sentence, the court said: “The Suppression of Unlawful Act Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act was passed by Parliament of India to give effect to the Montreal Convention and better teeth to curve the offences on board. India is one of the signatory states to the Montreal Convention. The language of the Act Section 3(1)(d)...is very clear and does not require any external aid to its construction. The plain language of the section shows that the convict is to be awarded life imprisonment and is also liable to fine.”

While holding the convict guilty the court said that a “zero tolerance” approach was required as breach of rules would lead to endangering of the aircraft and the lives of passengers on board.

“The statements of the passenger witnesses, though not consistent on every point, cannot be overlooked. The passengers were sitting on their respective seats, while the accused was going to others seat and giving instructions...claiming he was a DGCA official, a sky marshal and godfather of aviation,” the court said.

In his defence, Mohla’s counsel claimed he was falsely implicated by crew members and that the hijack story was concocted by them.

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