Rediff. com's Priyanka meets Jitender Mohla's father and counsel to know more about the case that resulted in the Delhi-based chartered accountant getting a life term.
A district court's decision to send Delhi-based Chartered Accountant Jitender Mohla to a life term on October 30 for -- as the media reports that followed described -- being involved in a 'hijack scare' on an Indigo flight on February 1, 2009, has left a family shocked and beleaguered.
If you knock on their door, they will open it only partly. They refrain from talking much and are scared after reading reports in the media following the verdict.
"All that is being published in the media is nonsense. It is not based on facts," says Ashok Mohla, the father of Jitender Mohla. It was reported that Jitender had entered or had tried entering the cockpit of the flight, and he was handed over to the police after he was overpowered by the crew members and the passengers. Mohla was also reported to have told cabin crew that he possessed some 'infected needles or a pin' which could be used to put people to sleep.
"From where did they get this information," asks the father, who just cannot believe his hard luck. The family says it is under lot of stress after the news reports were published.
The lawyer for Mohla at the Dwarka district court Kamna Vohra points out that on flight that day, Jitender Mohla never approached the cockpit and neither did he ever demand to speak with the captain of the flight. None of the passengers complained that he mishandled anyone. In fact, the court acquitted Mohla under the Anti-Hijacking Act. Nothing was found with him at the time of his arrest.
"How is the media then reporting about it being a hijack scare. Even the court has acquitted him for it," Vohra says.
Mohla was seated on seat number 16D of the flight and it has been revealed that he never moved beyond seat number 8 on the flight.
So, what exactly happened on that Goa-Delhi flight on February 1, 2009, grave enough to send somebody to a life term in jail?
According the Mohla's counsel, while the Indigo flight was taxiing, a couple of passengers ran towards the seats next to the emergency exit and sat on them. Mohla objected to this and asked the passengers to return to their seats. When the passengers asked him who he was, Mohla is believed to have told them that he was a Directorate General of Civil Aviation official. At other times, he stated he was a sky marshal and also said that he would complain against the cabin crew.
Apparently, on the flight Mohla was asking people not to use their mobile phones, to put on their seat belts when the seat belt sign was on, and wanted the cabin crew to provide a child restrain device to a passenger who was seated with an infant on an aisle seat.
A few of the passengers who testified as witnesses in the case also told the court that Mohla was moving around in the aircraft, asking people to put seat belts and so on. There was no violence on board.
"Mohla was upset with the incompetent manner in which the cabin crew members were letting people to use mobile phones etc. He just wanted to bring some discipline to the flight," Vohra argues.
Mohla had however had had a shot of rum and a Red Bull just before boarding the flight, which she believes may have made Mohla anxious. She adds that he had used the lavatory at the rear end of the plane 3-4 times as he is diabetic.
The case, it seems, majorly depends upon the statement given by crew member Neha Chhikara to the police hours after the plane landed in Delhi.
The rows of seats where Mohla was seated in the plane fell under the duties of Chhikara. In her complaint to the police she says that Mohla was "arrogant, shouting and misbehaving with co-passengers and crew members."
She also stated that Mohla told her and her colleague Anchal that he (Mohla) "is carrying a gun and some infected needles, which can be used for infection and to cut throats."
But there is a catch. Chhikara could never be examined in court because she committed suicide in December 2009, even before the trial began.
"I found out that the girl was under depression and was taking medications for it," argues Vohra.
"But the court did not appreciate it," says Vohra.
Furthermore, there are no eyewitnesses to Chhikara's claims that Mohla intimidated her, argues Vohra.
"Her colleague Mehta stated during cross examination that she depended on Chhikara's inputs about Mohla claiming to possess 'infected needles or that he was involved in the hijacking in Kandahar," Vohra argues further.
Chhikara was the principal source; she in turn informed her colleague, who then informed the lead cabin crew attendant, who then took the information to the cockpit and to the captain of the flight. In fact, the lead cabin crew attendant and the captain have stated in court that they depended for their information on the principal source, namely, Chhikara.
"At one time the captain authorised the lead crew to check on Mohla and check his credentials. But the cabin crew never bothered to check," exclaims Vohra.
Vohra further cements her claims that the flight was normal and says, "The captain did not alert ATC it was a hijack."
The transcripts of the conversation between Captain Amit Singh and the ATC show that the latter picked up the word after they overheard a conversation in the cockpit, and took it on themselves to put a hijack alert. The captain merely informed the ATC that there was an unruly passenger on board. The captain did not even ask for additional security.
The court, however, seems to have rebutted the claims of the defence that it was a 'normal flight', mainly because the pilot had asked for a discrete frequency (a separate frequency to talk to ATC). A few aviation experts, however, feel that asking to put them on a different frequency by itself is not an adequate sign of distress.
According to the DGCA rules, it is the captain on a flight who is authorised to say if the flight was normal or not. In this case, the captain in a report upon landing stated that the flight was normal.
It must be noted that Mohla has been given a life term under The Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, 1982. Mohla has been charged under Section 3 (1)(d), which states that any person who '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.'
It means for any person charged under this law, the only sentence under the law is life imprisonment.
The other sections 3 (1)(a),)b),(c) are about committing violence or destroying a part of the aircraft, or found to be in possession of device which could cause damage to the plane.
The court observed that the behaviour of Mohla was not normal on board. But, at the same time, it has hugely depended upon the statement of deceased Chhikara, and who could never be tried in court, to establish that Mohla indeed endangered the safety of the flight and its passengers, by stating that he had 'infected needles, was involved in Kandahar hijacking and so on.'
Mohla has already spent four years in Tihar Jail. His counsel Vohra is now preparing for a bail application in the Delhi high court.
"We are going to move Delhi HC for relief," informs Ashok Mohla. "We hope to get some respite. Please respect the privacy of the family," he requests.