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India to punish hijackers with death sentence

New Delhi. After more than two decades of liberal interpretation of law towards abolishing the death sentence, courts and the government are getting tougher, thanks to the increase in violent crimes including terrorism and hijacking.

The Indian Government decided March 20 to amend the anti-hijacking law to award death punishment to hijackers, and also to arm itself with powers to shoot down a passenger plane if its hijackers intended to use it as a missile, as was done by the 9/11 hijackers in the US in 2001.

The Harvard-educated Home Minister P Chidambaram, respected for his professionalism in whichever ministry he has handled in the past, asked the government to ensure deterrent punishment to criminals, and the Union Cabinet accepted his plea today. He headed the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to study the recommendations of the Civil Aviation Ministry in this regard, and expressed endorsement.

It was also decided that there would be a complete no-negotiations policy with hijackers.

“As there is talk of abolishing death sentence worldwide, the government constituted a group of ministers to discuss this issue” and “the proposal has been approved by the cabinet.” The GoM included Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, the latter two also being the top lawyers of the country like Mr Chidambaram.

The Government will seek Parliament’s approval next month to turn this decision into a law, and amend India’s Anti-Hijacking Act, enacted in 1982. The new provision would constitute a competent authority to authorize the Indian Air Force (IAF) to intercept to force to land and/ or shoot down any hijacked or hostile aircraft, particularly if it is believed that the aircraft would be used as a missile to hit a vital installation.

It may be recalled that in 1999, terrorists had hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in Afghanistan, and the government had to release three terrorists already jailed in India to seek the release of hostage passengers, some of whom were killed.

The amendment also calls for immobilising a hijacked aircraft on Indian soil if it has not taken off already. This apart a new clause will also be inserted for punishment to those who launch a conspiracy to hijack an aircraft.

Notably, Indian courts have also been getting tough in awarding the death punishment, and only this month, a man servant was given the capital punishment for killing five members of a family he worked for. In another case, another person was given the same sentence for raping and killing a small girl.

In the 1970s, India’s apex Supreme Court had said that death punishment should be given only in rare of the rarest cases, but as many criminals manage to escape the noose of the law, there is a general demand in the public now for deterrent laws and tougher punishment.

© India Strategic