Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 27
Thirty-seven years after an Indian Airlines plane with 111 passengers and six crew on board was hijacked to Lahore on its way from New Delhi to Srinagar, a Delhi Sessions Court on Monday acquitted both accused.
Additional Sessions Judge Ajay Pandey said in the absence of identification and description of specific role of each accused by witnesses, the prosecution “miserably failed” to prove the charge of waging war against the State against accused Satnam Singh and Tejinder Pal Singh.
As the court pronounced the word “acquitted”, the accused duo, their family members, friends and supporters present in the court welcomed the verdict saying, ‘Jo bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal’.
The two accused had already served life term in Pakistan for hijacking Indian Airlines Flight No. IC-423 to Lahore on September 29, 1981.
“Mere reference of accused as hijackers (in the judgment of Pakistani court), in the absence of positive proof of the ingredients of hijacking and abduction, is not sufficient to substitute the proof of positive facts required to be proved by prosecution,” the court said.
Satnam, who was 30 at the time of the offence, has turned 67 while Tejinderpal is a year younger. After the verdict, Satnam thanked the judiciary. “The Sikh victims of 1984 riots are yet to get justice, but in our case we have got justice from courts,” he said after the verdict at the Patiala House Courts here.
The prosecution had contended that the accused had admitted hijacking an Indian Airlines plane in a discharge application filed in the court but they had sought discharge on the ground that they had already been tried, convicted and sentenced for the offence by a Pakistani court.
“Even if the facts stated in the applications of accused are taken on their face value and even if for the sake of arguments it is presumed that the accused persons have admitted the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight No. IC-423, to Lahore, Pakistan, it is rightly submitted by learned Sh Maninder Singh (defence counsel) that prosecution has failed to satisfy the ingredients of Section 121/121A IPC beyond reasonable doubt against either of the accused,” ASJ Pandey said in his order.
After serving their sentence in Pakistan, Tejinder and Satnam had moved to Canada and the US, respectively, and were deported to India in 1998 and 1999 in connection with the September 29, 1981 incident.
The other three alleged hijackers—Gajinder Singh, Jasbir Singh and Karan Singh—are not in India.
Belonging to Dal Khalsa, the hijackers had demanded the release of Sikh preacher and head of Damdami Taksal Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale who was arrested on September 20, 1981 in a murder case. Later, he was killed during the Operation Bluestar in 1984.
“This finally draws curtains on the 37-year-old hijacking case in which 5 hijackers including the present duo had undergone life imprisonment. The prosecution succeeded in reopening the case a few years ago and try two of the accused again, but the court today acquitted the same and justice has been done”, said defence counsel Maninder Singh.
Dal Khalsa President Harpal Singh Cheema, who was present in the court, said, “We are happy for Satnam Singh and his family. We believe that the judge has taken a positive decision.”
Dal Khalsa Spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh said: “The judiciary has passed this litmus test and upheld its honour by this judgment because Sikhs have had a bitter experience of the Indian judiciary over the last few decades. This comes as a saving grace to the party activists who have been acquitted.”
The accused duo had contended that they had already served life sentence in Pakistan and spent 36 years of their lives in litigation.
Calling it a “classic example of double jeopardy”, they submitted that since they had already served life term for the crime in Pakistan, they could not be tried again in India. It would violate their fundamental right under Article 20(2) of the Constitution and Section 300 of the Criminal Procedure Code, they had submitted.
However, the prosecution had contended that the principle of double jeopardy didn’t apply as the offences for which they were tried and convicted in Pakistan were different from the ones mentioned in the chargesheet filed in a Delhi court.
But the accused contended that the incident of hijacking was one piece of act and a fresh case under a different provision of law amounted to violation of the principle of double jeopardy under Article 20(2) of the Constitution.
Delhi Police had filed a supplementary chargesheet in a Delhi court on September 29, 2011 under charges of sedition and waging war against the State.
In May 2017, the Delhi High Court had refused to quash the supplementary chargesheet against the accused and asked them to face trial.
However, the trial court had dropped sedition charges against the accused in May 2018 and they were tried only for waging war against the Indian state.
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