For every hijack or bomb scare, a draining, straining drill

Last week, a city court sentenced chartered accountant Jitendra Kumar Mohla, 45, to life imprisonment after finding him guilty of having created a hijack scare on an Indigo flight three years earlier. The ruling was the first of its kind but the kind of scare that he was convicted of having created, whether it is about a hijack or a bomb, is very frequent.

In the past two years, there have been 30 such hijack alerts, say officials of security agencies involved in airline and airport operations. They say the alerts, which always turn out to be hoaxes, are a drain on resources, besides creating a strain on passengers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and cricketer Zaheer Khan have been among the passengers of the flights involved in these fake alerts. In December 2011, the Chennai police received a call that there was a bomb on the prime minister's special aircraft when he arrived at Trichy airport in Tamil Nadu. Since it concerned the PM, the anti-sabotage check was conducted by Special Protection Group personnel while the terminal buildings were sanitised by the CISF. It took three hours of checks to conclude that it was a hoax call.

In July that year, a woman had called up the enquiry desk for the Bangalore airport and asked which Zaheer would take. When the staff informed her that they had no such information, she said, "If Osama bin Laden is travelling, the police call, then? Bomb hotel mein hai... airport mein... OK, bye." The caller sent security officials scrambling into checks and all associated procedures. Later, Khan too was questioned and he declared ignorance about the caller.

"Whenever we receive a call that a plane is going to be hijacked or that there is a bomb on board, the entire security apparatus is put into place to carry out the mandatory checks," said a senior official involved in such operations. "Sniffer dogs, CISF officers, officials from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, airport managers and officials from private airlines are roped in and the checks are run."

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