Court acquits 2009 Indigo Airlines ‘hijack’ case accused of hijack charges; Conviction only for communicating false information that endangered passengers
By Jacob K Philip
Hijack or no hijack, it is next to impossible to prosecute any of the passengers who were aboard the controversial Air India Express Flight 4422, on October 19, 2012, on the basis of Aviation rules of the land.
The conviction on Thursday of a Chartered Accountant who three years back had caused a hijack scare aboard an Indigo Airlines flight, makes this all the more evident.
On February 1, 2009, Jitender Kumar Mohla (45) announced aboard the Indigo Airlines flight that was flying from Delhi to Goa that he was hijacking the aircraft.
Though he was accused of trying to hijack the aircraft, Mohla is now convicted not under Anti-Hijacking Act, but section 3(1)(d) of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation and 336/506/170 of the IPC. He got acquitted of charges under the Anti-Hijacking Act as “nothing incriminating was found in his possession when he was arrested. And there were no evidence on record to show that the accused entered the cockpit”.
Now let us examine again the ‘hijack’ case of Air India Express Abu Dhabi – Kochi Flight which landed at Thiruvananthapuram on October 19 morning after being diverted from Kochi. The passengers got agitated when the Pilot made the announcements that they had to make their own arrangements to reach Kochi and that she was leaving the aircraft because her flight duty time limit was exceeded. The furor that followed ended in the Pilot sending an emergency transponder signal and telling the Control Tower that the situation was ‘Hijack Like”.
It was already made evident that, because the aircraft was not in flight, the Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982 could not be invoked.
The only remaining act applicable is “The Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, 1982”, just as it was for the Mohla case.
Here is what the act has to say about the possible offenses aboard an aircraft:
3. Offense of committing violence on board an aircraft in flight, etc. —
(1) Whoever unlawfully and intentionally —
(a) commits an act of violence against a person on board an aircraft in flight which is likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft; or
(b) destroys an aircraft in service or causes damage to such aircraft in such a manner as to render it incapable of flight or which is likely to endanger its safety in flight; or
(c) places or causes to be placed on an aircraft in service, by any means whatsoever, a device or substance which is likely to destroy that aircraft, or to cause damage to it which renders it incapable of flight, or to cause damage to it which is likely to endanger its safety in flight; or
(d) communicates such information which he knows to be false so as to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.
(2) Whoever attempts to commit, or abets the commission of, and offense under subsection (1) shall also be deemed to have committed such offense and shall be punished with the punishment provided for such offense.
Now, (1) (a) is not applicable because the aircraft was not in flight.
(1) (b) also does not come in to play because no damage was done to the aircraft.
(1) (c) is not relevant as no device that can endanger the aircraft was involved in the incident
(1) (d) also is irrelevant as it deals with an aircraft in flight and no false communication was made by anyone.
The other two offenses listed in the act are the following:
3A. Offense at airport
4. Destruction of, or damage to, air navigation facilities.
3A deals obviously with incidents outside an aircraft and 4 is again not applicable because no navigational facilities were damaged.
That means no aviation safety law is violated by the passengers .
Now it is up to the local Police to invoke or not the sections of Indian Penal Code based on the written complaint of the Pilot-in-Command of the aircraft.