Updated: April 2, 2021 11:41:02 am
The trailer of R Madhavan’s directorial debut Rocketry: The Nambi Effect was released on Thursday. The biopic is based on the life of the former rocket scientist at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Nambi Narayanan. Head of ISRO’s cryogenics division, he was falsely accused of espionage and arrested in 1994. The trailer presents Nambi Narayanan (played by Madhavan) as an ‘arrogant genius’ who wants to put India on the map when it comes to the commercial satellite market. The trailer showcases how his patriotism became his downfall and he was arrested for selling plans of India’s space programme to foreign countries. All charges against him were dismissed by the Supreme Court in 1998.
Nambi Narayanan at ISRO
Working as the in-charge of the cryogenics division at ISRO, Narayanan foresaw the need for liquid fuelled engines for ISRO’s future civilian space programmes and introduced the technology in India as early as the 1970s. The same technology which later he was accused of selling.
In 1992, ISRO finalised a deal with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels. However, due to pressure from US and France on Russia, the deal was called off. Nonetheless, a new agreement with Russia was signed to fabricate four cryogenic engines without a formal transfer of technology. Tenders were floated and a consensus had already been reached with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited (Keltch) which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines. But, at the peak of his career, the scientist got stuck in the ‘ISRO spy case’.
The ISRO Spy case
In October 1994, Kerala police in Thiruvananthapuram had registered a case against Mariam Rasheeda, a Maldivian national, under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act 1946 and Section 7 of the Foreigners Order, 1948.
The initial charges against her were of overstaying in India following the cancellation of her flight to Maldives. Following her interrogation, the police made out a case that she had contacted ISRO space scientists who were suspected of having transferred cryogenic engine technology to Pakistan through her. And the following month, the police arrested Narayanan and another ISRO scientist, D. Sasikumaran.
The police case was that Narayanan and Sasikumaran had passed on secret documents to other countries, especially Pakistan. The arrested scientists were grilled by Intelligence Bureau sleuths, including Gujarat-cadre IPS officer R B Sreekumar, who was then IB additional director in Kerala.
Within 20 days of the case being registered, the probe was handed over to the CBI. In 1996, it submitted its closure report in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Kochi, saying that the allegations of espionage were unproven and false. The court admitted the closure report, leading to the discharge of all those who had been implicated.
In 1996, CPI (M) led government tried to reinvestigate the case, which was later quashed by the Supreme court on the scientists’ appeal.
Supreme Court ruling
The case cost the 76-year-old former ISRO scientist his career and over two decades of his life and academic work. In 2018, the Supreme Court awarded Rs 50 lakh compensation to former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, saying he was “unnecessarily arrested and harassed” by the Kerala Police. The top court has set up a committee under Justice DK Jain to look into Narayanan’s complaint against police officers who framed him. The Centre and state will nominate a member each to the committee.