The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday quashed and set aside a 2019 order of a NIA court sentencing a businessman to life imprisonment for leaving a hijack threat note on a Mumbai-Delhi flight in 2017, saying the trial court sentenced him for the offence of hijacking “on the premise of evidence which is tainted with doubt.”
Businessman Birju Salla was the first person to be booked under the stringent Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016.
The NIA had filed a chargesheet against him under sections 3(1), 3(2)(a) and 4(b) of the Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016.
A division bench of HC Justices AS Supehia and MR Mengdey said the appellant (Salla) is acquitted from the offences under sections 3(1) and 3(2)(a) of the Act. As a sequel the sentence under section 4(b) of the Act is set aside, it added.
The HC also directed that Rs 5 crore fine which Salla was ordered to pay be refunded in case it is already paid.
The special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Ahmedabad on June 11, 2019 sentenced Salla to life imprisonment under the Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016, and imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore for leaving a hijack threat note on a Mumbai-Delhi flight in October 2017.
Salla had become the first person to be booked under the stringent Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016, which replaced a vintage law of 1982. He was also the first person to be put under the “national no fly list”.
While quashing and setting aside the NIA court order against Salla, the HC said it does not subscribe to “the view expressed by the trial court convicting and sentencing the appellant for the offence of hijacking on the premise of evidence which is tainted with doubt.”
It also directed that Rs 5 crore fine which Salla was ordered to pay be refunded in case it is already paid, and his properties seized and ordered to be confiscated by the investigation officer under provisions of section 19 of the Act be released.
The high court also directed crew members of the affected flight to refund the amount of compensation in case the same was paid as per directions of the trial court.
The trial court had said Rs 5 crore fine submitted by the convict shall be distributed among the crew members and passengers on board the affected plane.
“In the alternative, the state is directed to pay the amount which is paid to the crew members, and it will be open for the state to recover such amount from the crew members,” the HC bench said in its order.
Salla was accused of creating a hijack scare by planting a threat note written in English and Urdu in the tissue paper box of the aircraft’s toilet on October 30, 2017.
The NIA had said Salla prepared a “threat note” in both English and Urdu language and placed it “intentionally” in the tissue paper box of the toilet near the business class of the Mumbai-Delhi Jet Airways flight on October 30, 2017, thereby jeopardising the safety of passengers and crew on board.
He was arrested after the plane made an emergency landing at the Ahmedabad airport after a female flight attendant found the note in the washroom which read, “there are hijackers on board and explosives on the plane”.
As per the prosecution, Salla confessed to the crime and told investigators he had done it in the hope that it would force Jet Airways to close its Delhi operation and his girlfriend, who worked in the airline’s office in the national capital, would come back to Mumbai.
The note asked the plane to be flown to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The note ended with the words “Allah is Great”.