Gujarat HC acquits Mumbai businessman in aircraft grounding case

Businessman Birju Salla had become the first person to be booked under the stringent Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016, which replaced a vintage law of 1982

August 08, 2023 05:07 pm | Updated 11:36 pm IST - Ahmedabad

An outside view of Gujarat High Court at S. G. Highway in Ahmedabad.

An outside view of Gujarat High Court at S. G. Highway in Ahmedabad. | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday acquitted Mumbai-based businessman Birju Salla by quashing the conviction and life imprisonment awarded by the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in the case of grounding of a Mumbai-Delhi flight in 2017. 

In 2019, the NIA court found him guilty and awarded him life imprisonment under the amended anti-hijacking law. Mr. Salla was the first person to be booked under the stringent Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016. In fact, he was also the first person to be put in the national “no fly list” of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. 

The High Court held that the trial court sentenced him for the offence of hijacking “on the premise of evidence which is tainted with doubt.”

Mr. Salla has spent six years in jail for his mischief or prank of placing a threat note written in English and Urdu in the Mumbai-Delhi Jet Airways flight’s lavatory to impress his girlfriend to return to him.

A Division Bench of Justices A.S. Supehia and M.R. Mengdey quashed the conviction and sentencing of Mr. Salla. 

The letter or note planted by Mr. Salla had stated that the hijackers were on board and that the aircraft would be “flown straight to PoK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir]”. 

Also read | Jeweller from Mumbai is first on India’s no-fly list

Moreover, it had also warned that “people would die” if efforts were made to land the aircraft elsewhere saying that the explosives had been planted in the cargo area of the aircraft. 

Emergency landing

Upon discovery of the note by the flight crew, the flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Ahmedabad, where Mr. Salla was immediately booked for his mischief or prank. 

The High Court directed that the ₹5-crore fine which Mr. Salla was ordered to pay be refunded in case it was already paid while dubbing the case as bizarre. The Bench directed that the properties seized and confiscated under the Act by the investigation officer “shall be released forthwith”.

The NIA had said Mr. Salla had prepared a “threat note” in both English and Urdu and placed it “intentionally” in the tissue paper box of the toilet near the business class of the Mumbai-Delhi Jet Airways flight on October 30, 2017, thereby jeopardising the safety of passengers and crew on board.

As per the prosecution, Mr. Salla confessed to the crime and told investigators he had done it in the hope that it would force Jet Airways to close its Delhi operation and his girlfriend, who worked in the airline’s office in the national capital, would come back to Mumbai.

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