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 widen the ambit of the law in dealing with this crime.
The Anti-Hijacking Bill, 2014, was approved by the Lok Sabha by voice vote. It was passed by the 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 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 UPA 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 RAW 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. "Perimeter walls of airports are porous," he said and cited the terror attack at Pathankot airbase as an example.
Rajesh Pandey (BJP) 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.
News, views and interviews- Follow our election coverage.
Click TN Election Special
Click Kerala Election Special