Twenty four years after he was arrested by Kerala police on an espionage charge that was thrown out by a court later, former ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan was awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh by the Supreme Court Friday for the “ignominy” and “immense humiliation” he suffered.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud set up a committee headed by one of its former judges to “find out ways and means to take appropriate steps against the erring” police personnel who allegedly framed Nambi Narayanan in what came to be known as the ISRO spy scandal — he used to head the cryogenic project at ISRO.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Thiruvananthapuram, Nambi Narayanan said he was “partly satisfied” with the order. Happy that the award of compensation had come after 24 years, he said: “I had been pressing for the CBI to investigate the actions of the police officers who fabricated the so-called ISRO spy case. The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has set up a committee for the purpose but not stipulated any deadline for it. I do not want it to be another open-ended inquiry which will take years to fix responsibility.”
He said he would have been more happy if the ruling had specified who all would be probed. “Besides the Kerala police, the role of officials of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) must also be inquired into. May be the role the media played should also be included. Everyone should be covered, not just three Kerala police officers. And the committee has to find out not only who all fabricated the case, but why they did it.”
In October-November 1994, Kerala police arrested two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fousiya Hasan, and claimed to have uncovered a spy ring in ISRO and leak of sensitive documents. The case was initially investigated by S Vijayan, Inspector, Special Branch, Thiruvananthapuram. Subsequently, the case was taken over by a Special Investigation Team headed by the then DIG (Crime) Siby Mathews.
Nambi Narayanan was arrested on November 30, 1994 and the investigation was handed over to the CBI on December 4, 1994. In its report to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ernakulam, the CBI stated that “the evidence collected indicated that the allegations of espionage against the scientists at ISRO, including the appellant herein, were not proved and were found to be false”.
This report was accepted by the court and all accused were discharged on May 2, 1996. But in a separate secret report to the Centre and state government, the CBI detailed the role played by officials of the IB in the matter. On Friday, Nambi Narayanan pointed it out: “In that report, there are names of 13 officials of the IB, each of whom played a role in fabricating the case, and which eventually led to my arrest and incarceration for 50 days. Now that a committee has been appointed by the Supreme Court, all this should be inquired into.”
He said he would consult his lawyers and then decide if a fresh application needs to be filed in the Supreme Court, seeking clarifications. “While I am happy that the Supreme Court has awarded compensation and has willingly accepted the CBI’s closure report, I am only partly satisfied. All I can say is, yes, some good has been done.”
The Supreme Court order came on a petition by Narayanan, challenging the Kerala High Court’s decision to overturn a trial court order directing action against the erring officers. The proposed committee will be headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retired) D K Jain. Both the Centre and state can nominate a member each to the committee. Referring to the harm caused to the scientist’s reputation because of the case, the Supreme Court said that the “reputation of an individual is an insegregable facet of his right to life with dignity”, fundamental to Article 21. It directed Kerala to pay the compensation amount within eight weeks.