The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999 and the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., in which aircraft were used as missiles, were wake-up calls for India to tighten the 1982 vintage anti-hijacking law. The need was also felt to make hijacking punishable with death penalty.
The government felt that the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 had insufficient penalties and was not comprehensive enough to deal with new challenges. In fact, it was hardly a deterrent for prospective offenders.
The Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016 repealed the 1982 Act. Its objectives are in tune with the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft. The Act further incorporated the September 2010 Beijing Protocol Supplementary to the Convention which specifically dealt with “unlawful acts against civil aviation by new types of threats”. The Act highlighted the government’s concern for expedient measures to be taken during hostile acts of seizure or exercise of control of aircraft which jeopardise the safety of persons and property.
The new law revamped Section 3 of the 1982 legislation to expand the definition of hijacking to seizure or take over of an aircraft using “any technological means”. This takes into consideration the possibility that a hijacker need not be physically present inside the aircraft to take control of it.
According to the Act, even a credible “threat” to hijack an aircraft amounts to hijacking. The definition of ‘hijacking’ also includes an attempt to commit the crime, abetting, organising, participating in it as an accomplice, and unlawfully and intentionally assisting a person involved in hijacking to evade investigation or prosecution or punishment. Here, a person who does not actually participate in the hijacking but “directs” someone else to do it is equally liable.
Section 4 allows capital punishment if the hijacking leads to the death of a hostage, a security personnel, or any person not involved in the offence. The alternative is life imprisonment. The Act makes it clear that imprisonment for life means “imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life”. There is no chance of remission.
An aircraft is considered to be “in-service” from the beginning of its pre-flight preparation by ground personnel or crew for a specific flight until 24 hours after “any landing”.