New Delhi: A chartered accountant was on Tuesday sentenced to life imprisonment by a court here for triggering a mid-air hijack scare in February 2009 by claiming aboard a Goa-Delhi Indigo airlines flight that he had infected needles and a gun.
"The accused Jitender Kumar Mohla is awarded life imprisonment under section 3(1)(d) of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation," District Judge I S Mehta said.
The court, which had also convicted Mohla under sections 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 170 (impersonating a public servant) of the Indian Penal Code, awarded him varying jail terms which were set off against the period spent by him behind bars since his arrest on February 2, 2009.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs 7,000 on him.
According to the police, Mohla had entered into the cockpit on February 1, 2009 and had sparked panic by claiming that he had hijacked the plane.
Mohla had also warned the crew members that he was one of the accused in the infamous Kandahar hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in 1999 and was carrying needles with which he would "infect" others if they resisted him, it had said.
The crew members and some passengers, however, had overpowered Mohla and he was arrested the next day.
Police had said Mohla`s behaviour had forced the Indigo pilot to send a hijack alert, leading to a scare and panic at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport here.
The plane had made an emergency landing and was kept in isolation for two and a half hours after it was confirmed that the landing took place due to unruly behaviour of Mohla.
The court, in its judgement convicting 45-year-old Mohla,
had said he had intimidated the crew members by claiming to be an official of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
It had also said that Mohla was aware that his "terrifying act" would have endangered the safety of the 160 passengers and the crew members on board.
The court, in its judgement, had said every person on board a flight should observed certain "standards of behaviour" as per the norms laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the DGCA as India is a signatory to the Montreal Convention.
The court had, however, acquitted Mohla for the offence under the Anti Hijacking Act saying that nothing incriminating was found from his possession at the time of his arrest.
Mohla has been in judicial custody since his arrest in February 2009 as his bail plea was earlier rejected by the sessions court and the Delhi High Court after which he had approached the Supreme Court which too had refused to entertain his plea.
While sentencing Mohla, the court said, "The Suppression of Unlawful Act Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act was passed by Parliament of India to give effect to the Montreal Convention and better teeth to curve the offences on board. India is one of the signatory state to Montreal Convention.
"The language of the Act 3(1)(d)...Is very clear and does not require any external aid to its construction. The plain language of the section shows that the convict is to be awarded life imprisonment and is also liable to fine," the court said, while sentencing with life term.
Earlier while convicting Mohla, the judge had said, "Any breach of rule would result into the endangering the aircraft as well as the passengers on board.
Therefore, what is required is zero tolerance on board."
The court had relied heavily on the statement of crew-members, pilot and other passengers to convict Mohla.
"The statements of the passenger witnesses, though not consistent on every point, cannot be overlooked. The passengers were sitting on their respective seats, while the accused was going to others` seat and giving instructions... claiming he was a DGCA official, a sky marshal and godfather of aviation," the court had noted.
The court said even if it is presumed that Mohla had no intention of hijacking the plane, he still knew he was on board Indigo flight 6E334 carrying 160 passengers and his "terrifying act" against the cabin crew members would endanger the safety of the passengers and the aircraft.
During the trial, Mohla`s counsel had claimed he was falsely implicated as the crew members were scared that he would send a bad report against them after he claimed to be a DGCA official and scolded the air hostesses for letting the passengers walk around while the seatbelt sign was on. The counsel claimed Mohla acted in good faith and that the hijack story was concocted by the crew as an afterthought.