The chaotic security response during the IndiGo flight E6-334 hijack scare earlier this year has guided the Government to develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) defining the roles of the country’s security agencies in a hijack situation.
On February 1, three unruly passengers threatened to hijack an IndiGo flight from Goa to Delhi. After the Air Traffic Control raised a hijack alarm, our security agencies were found fumbling and couldn’t mount a coordinated response.
Finally, more than four hours later, 163 passengers were evacuated and a passenger who threatened the hijack, arrested.
To avoid multiplicity of command, the government has reduced the number of panels overseeing anti-hijacking operations from three to two.
On July 12, Hindustan Times had reported that the hijack scare had exposed serious coordination problems between security agencies. While handling the hijack scare at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, the elite counter-terrorism force National Security Guard (NSG) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) squabbled over their respective roles.
In the aftermath of the incident, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar chaired two meetings on February 7 and April 17 to review the country’s anti-hijacking preparedness.
In the meetings, the government decided that the NSG would have the final say in case an armed intervention was needed in a hijack, reveal documents made available to Hindustan Times.
The central committee at IGI will take decisions binding on all agencies. However, in case of “any armed intervention to terminate the hijack situation, the NSG, after directions from the appropriate level, will operate under its own command,” the meeting documents say.
The NSG was set up in 1984 to tackle all facets of terrorism, while the CISF is primarily engaged in protecting the country’s economic infrastructure.
The government has taken other anti-hijacking measures too.
Besides the Chandigarh and Ahmedabad airports, the government has designated the Jaipur and Lucknow airports as an alternative to Delhi in case of a hijack. If the pilot is in a position to manoeuvre the plane, he should take it to the four designated airports and avoid bringing it to Delhi.
The government has also asked the agencies concerned to chalk out a plan to control traffic on the city side at the airport; brief the media on the situation; train pilots, crew and ground-handling staff. Chandrashekhar also wants CCTVs installed at the Delhi airport’s isolation bay.
Chandrashekhar also ordered that the civil aviation ministry meet home secretaries and district magistrates to assess the preparedness in states and conduct regular mock drills. Communications have been sent to the states on this, the documents show.