Hijacking of an aircraft will now entail capital punishment in the event of death of "any person" as Parliament on Monday passed a bill to provide widen the ambit of the law in dealing with this crime.
The anti-hijacking bill, 2014, was approved by Lok Sabha by voice vote. It was passed by Rajya Sabha earlier.
In the earlier bill, hijackers could be tried for death penalty only in the event of death of hostages, such as flight crew, passengers and security personnel.
In the amended law, the definition has been expanded to include death of ground staff as well.
Following the amendments, the perpetrators of hijacking would now be punishable with death penalty where such an act result in the death of "any person".
Besides broadening the definition of hijacking, it also provides for an enhanced punishment to the perpetrators as well as the area of jurisdiction.
Piloting the bill, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said that the government was trying to deal with the problem of security of airports through a mix of technology and manpower.
Dismissing suggestions that there should be no death penalty in case of hijacking, he noted that the country had witnessed 19 hijacking incidents and one has to be practical while prescribing penalties as the lives of innocent people are involved.
Admitting that there was undue delay in enactment of anti-hijacking legislation, Raju said it was a reflection on the functioning of members.
The government, the minister added, has developed a contingency plan to deal with hijacking.
Participating in the debate, senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said the bill was first brought by the United Progressive Alliance regime in 2010.
Chowdhury said that as hijackers are highly motivated persons, they cannot be deterred by death penalty. "I suggest more legal teeth in this legislation," he added.
Citing examples like the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999, the Congress member said the then government was not able to stop the plane when it landed in Amritsar. The aircraft was finally guided by the hijackers to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
He said that in view of growing civil aviation industry, vulnerabilities too have grown and "that is why we need to be vigilant".
He raised question as to how much the country is prepared to deal with such exigencies emerging out of such situation because "we failed in dealing with the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814".
He said former Research and Analysis Wing chief A S Dulat has revealed how the Centre failed to stop the flight in Amritsar and after that a blame-game had started.
"We had already witnessed hijack scenario in our country and the response that our government has displayed during that crucial time. May I know what is the crisis management infrastructure to deal with any exigencies," Chowdhury asked.
Supporting the bill, he cautioned that the security at airports is not foolproof. "Permiter walls of airports are porous," he said and cited the terror attack at Pathankot airbase as an example.
Supporting the bill, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Rajesh Pandey said a proper system should be put in place for security of airports as there are huge numbers of ground handling staff and they keep moving.
Citing example of a hijack of a plane in 1978 by two Congress workers, Pandey said it was shameful that they were made members of Parliament. A very bad precedent was set up due to this, he said.
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy while supporting the bill, said the hijack of IC814 was shameful case during the National Democratic Alliance regime when the then foreign minister escorted terrorist Masood Azhar to Kandahar for exchange with hostages.
"Why India took such a long time for such a law. Why this huge time between the international convention and the actual legislation in the country. We should take care of this," he said.
He said there is a need to deal with issues related with cyber crime and hijacking as somebody can mobilise aircraft by jamming it electronically.
Supporting the bill, Tathagata Satpathy of the Biju Janata Dal said there is a need for clarification on the compensation thing.
He also said that death penalty has been stressed upon in the bill but "I do not think it is a successful method and whether it will be a proper deterrent".
In rape cases, death penalty should be given, he said.
He said the Central Industrial Security Force is not trained adequately or equipped properly to deal with such exigencies.
During IC814 hijack, "our forces were incapable of stopping it at Amrtisar....the CISF is not the proper force. We need to develop a special force to secure airports," he said.
Emphasising the need for ending the "VIP culture", he said everybody, be it a judge or a minister or any other VIP, should pass the security check process.
"No VIP treatment for anybody. VIP culture must end in India," Satpathy said.
Murali Mohan of the Telugu Desam Party said the compensation should be Rs 4 crore.
Supporting the bill, B N Goud of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi said proper mechanism should in place for compensation of victims. He too mentioned about the IC814 hijack.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sankar Prasad Datta said the "death penalty should not be there" as it does not deter the crime.
Among others who participated in the debate include Gopal Chinayya Shetty of the BJP, Arun Kumar of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, YV Subba Reddy of the YSR Congress Party) and Dushyant Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal.