Friday, February 6, 2015

Cabinet clears Bill allowing death penalty for hijackers

Cabinet also approves changes to Companies Act, 2013, a move designed to make it easier for companies to do business in India
Tarun Shukla | Prashant K. Nanda | Shreeja Sen 

New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Tuesday cleared a strong anti-hijacking Bill that provides for stringent punishment, including the death penalty, for the hijack of Indian airplanes, 15 years after an Indian Airlines aircraft was commandeered by terrorists during the tenure of a previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP-led) government. Also approved were changes to the Companies Act, 2013, a move designed to make it easier for companies to do business in India. “The (anti-hijacking) Bill provides death punishment for the offence of hijacking, where such offence results in the death of a hostage or of a security personnel; or with imprisonment for life and the moveable and immoveable property of such persons shall also be liable to be confiscated,” the government said in a statement late in the evening. Indian Airlines (now Air India) flight IC-814 was hijacked on its way back to Delhi from Kathmandu half an hour after take off on 24 December 1999. 

Taken over by five Pakistani hijackers with 180 passengers and crew, the flight was forced to make a detour to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The hijacking drama continued for several days with family members of passengers pressuring the Indian government to help free the hostages. An agreement was reached for the release of the passengers in exchange for three jailed militants—Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar. Then foreign minister Jaswant Singh personally escorted the freed militants to Kandahar—a move that was widely criticized. “After the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 in December, 1999, it was felt necessary for providing the award of death penalty to perpetrators of the act of hijacking. The incident of 9/11, where aircraft were used as weapons, also created the need to further amend the existing Act,” the government added. The Anti-Hijacking (Amendment) Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August 2010. 

The cabinet on Tuesday also approved the introduction of the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2014, in Parliament to make changes to the Companies Act, 2013. The amendments will make it easier for companies to do business, a major goal of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Once approved by Parliament, it will also ensure severe punishment for those collecting illegal deposits from the public. The 14 proposed amendments, which were approved by the Union cabinet on Tuesday, also include provisions to ensure that fraud beyond a certain threshold be mandatorily reported by the auditors to the government. Another highlight of the changes proposed is the removal of the requirement of the minimum paid-up capital for companies. An aspect which could question the transparency regime is the proposal to remove public inspection of board resolutions. Yet another provision suggested is to allow writing off of past losses prior to declaring dividend. The cabinet also cleared draft legislation on coal block auctions to replace an ordinance that was promulgated to auction coal mines cancelled by the Supreme Court. 

The Bill to replace the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2014, is likely to be placed before the Parliament during the ongoing winter session. “Cabinet has approved the bill,” Press Trust of India quoted an unnamed person familiar with the matter as saying after the Cabinet meeting in New Delhi. The Supreme Court had in September cancelled allocation of 204 coal blocks, including 42 operational mines and another 32 ready-to-start blocks. The government, through the ordinance, started the process of auctioning at least 74 operational or ready-to-operate blocks with the target of allocating them by March, well before the deadline set by the Supreme Court for companies operating mines to wind up operations. The ordinance has been opposed by the central trade unions, including BJP-affiliated trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. 

Trade unions have jointly opposed the government’s proposal to allow private companies to mine coal and sell it in the open market, a right till now reserved with the state-run Coal India Ltd. Meanwhile, the government has already said that the 74 coal mines, which the government plans to auction to specific end-users in the first phase of bidding on 11 February, will not require any environmental clearances. The auction will be for the private sector, while state-owned companies will be allotted mines. The government had last week announced auctioning and allotment of 74 blocks in the first phase of bidding. 

These blocks have the potential to produce 210 million tonnes of coal. The government had already made it clear that the number of mines a company can bid will be capped to avoid monopoly. Until 9.15pm on Tuesday, the government hadn’t issued a formal statement on this. The cabinet also approved amendments in the Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) Act, 1976, to enhance authorized and issued capital to strengthen their capital base and to bring flexibility in the shareholding between the central government, state governments and sponsor banks. The term of the non-official directors appointed by the central government will be fixed not exceeding three years, a cabinet note said. “The amendments will ensure financial stability of RRBs which will enable them to play a greater role in financial inclusion and meeting credit requirements of rural areas and the Board of RRBs will be strengthened,” the cabinet note said. 

Regional Rural Banks were established under Regional Rural Banks Act, 1976, to create an alternative channel to the cooperative credit structure and to ensure sufficient institutional credit for the rural and agriculture sector. RRBs are jointly owned by the central government, the concerned state government and sponsor banks, with the issued capital shared in the proportion of 50%, 15% and 35%, respectively. The cabinet committee on economic affairs, which also met on Tuesday, approved four-laning of three national highways—Singhara-Binjabahal section of National Highway-6 in Odisha, Nagina-Kashipur section of National Highway-74 in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and Lucknow-Sultanpur section of National Highway-56 in Uttar Pradesh. These projects will cost the government over Rs.3,870 crore. The cabinet also approved signing of a treaty on transfer of sentenced persons between India and Qatar. It will facilitate Indian prisoners imprisoned in Qatar or vice-versa to be near their families for serving the remaining part of their sentence and will facilitate their social rehabilitation. PTI contributed to this story.

Source: [last accessed 06.02.2015]

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