''The Union Cabinet today approved a proposal of the Civil Aviation Ministry to amend the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982,'' Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
She said the UPA-I had constituted a Group of Minister (GoM) on the issue.
After UPA-II took over, a new GoM, headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram, was constituted which gave a final shape to the proposals. The GoM also included Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.
Later, Chidambaram told reporters that the earlier "draft bill was clumsy. So the GoM decided to set it right".
Sections 3 and 4 of the Act, which deal with the definition of hijack and punishment for hijacking are proposed to be amended to include death penalty. Currently, the law provides for life imprisonment and a fine as punishments for hijacking.
The GoM earlier examined the proposals to amend the existing law to include these aspects as well as the conspiracy to hijack an aircraft.
Government has worked out a new policy to provide for extraordinary move like shooting down an aircraft whose hijack has been established and the hijackers intend to target a vital installation by using it as a missile like the New York attack of September 11, 2001.
The policy, which was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security during the last UPA government, also provides for immobilisation of the plane and disallowing it to take off if the hijack occurs on the Indian soil.
It opposes any negotiation with the hijackers on their demands and also scrambling of IAF fighters if the hijacked plane remained in the Indian airspace.
These provisions are aimed at countering situations like the Kandahar hijack of December 1999, when 178 passengers and 11 crew members were exchanged for four dreaded terrorists. One of the passengers was killed by the hijackers.
At that time, security forces had failed to immobilise the plane when it had landed at Amritsar airport.
Among the four terrorists freed was Maulana Masood Azhar, who later floated terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan, and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was held for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and allegedly played a significant role in planning the 9/11 terror strikes.
The draft proposal was prepared by the Civil Aviation Ministry and cleared by a Committee of Secretaries last year and then referred to the GoM for approval.