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Delhi Court acquits two Sikh separatists over 1981 Air India plane hijacking

Tajinder Pal Singh and Satnam Singh were charged with waging war against India and sedition for hijacking the Air India plane to Lahore in 1981.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2018 22:57 IST
Richa Banka
Richa Banka
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
1981 Air India hijacking,Air India,Sikh separatists
The Air India plane carrying 111 passengers and a crew of six was hijacked on September 29, 1981 by five knife-wielding Khalistan supporters.(Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint File)

A Delhi court acquitted on Monday two people accused of waging war against the country by allegedly hijacking a Delhi-Srinagar Indian Airlines plane in 1981 and taking it to Pakistan.

Additional sessions judge Ajay Pandey said the prosecution failed to prove the charges against the accused Satnam Singh and Tejinderpal Singh, both of whom served life terms in Pakistan. Pandey also said the case was hurt because both the original FIR and the charge sheet filed in the main case couldn’t be traced. “…….in the absence of identification and description of specific role of each accused by witnesses, this court is of the opinion that prosecution has miserably failed to prove the charge under section (121 or 121A IPC (waging a war or attempting to wage a war against the country) against either of accused,” the judge said.

The court said the judgment of the Pakistan court, which awarded life terms to the two, and the proceedings in Pakistan were not relevant to this case.

On September 29, 1981, five members of the radical Sikh group, Dal Khalsa, allegedly hijacked Indian Airlines flight number IC-423 carrying 117 passengers from New Delhi to Srinagar, and forced it to land in Lahore. They were protesting against the arrest of Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, who was at the forefront of a movement demanding a separate nation for Sikhs, Khalistan.

In 2005, Indian Airlines was merged with Air India, and the new entity was called Air India.

Pakistan launched a commando operation hours after the plane landed in Lahore, and arrested the five people. All were convicted and sentenced to life terms in prison by a special court in Lahore under the Pakistan Penal Code in 1986.

After serving a little over 13 years, Satnam Singh returned to India, surrendered and filed an application on December 9, 1999 in a Delhi court seeking discharge. In his application, he stated he had already undergone the imprisonment for hijacking the plane and hence could not be further prosecuted.

The trial court discharged him on February 11, 2000. Tejinderpal Singh also filed a similar discharge application, prompting the court to call for the records of the case. However, no record of the FIR was found and even the main charge sheet could not be traced. The court said the case was unique because it was launched not by the police but on the filing of a discharge application. “Court requires proof of each ingredient of any offence to be brought on record. Merely because accused stated that he hijacked Indian Airlines Flight, without narrating the details and the manner in which the plane was purportedly hijacked by him, court cannot conclude that plane was hijacked or the passengers were abducted,” the court held.

Satnam and Tejinderpal appeared before the court after a supplementary charge sheet was filed against them for waging a war against the country (121, 121A and criminal conspiracy 120B).

However, the sedition clause (section 124A of IPC), which was a part of earlier charge sheet, was dropped.

To prosecute people under section 120B of the IPC (criminal conspiracy), the Delhi Police requires sanction from the lieutenant governor. But the court observed that the lack of a charge sheet and main complaint meant that nothing could be sent to the L-G. “…..letters for grant of sanction and consequent sanction were written without application of mind,” the court said.

The court also observed that no official document, letter or communication was collected by the investigating officer (IO) to verify the names of the crew or the passengers. Hence the possibility of some specific witnesses being chosen by IO to support his case could not be ruled out.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 12:56 IST