Supreme Court directs Kerala to compensate ISRO scientist for false espionage charges

Despite his distinguished career at ISRO where he headed the cryogenics division, falsified charges of espionage have dented reputation of scientist Nambi Narayanan, observed the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, heading the bench hearing his plea said that the state of Kerala must pay a remuneration of Rs. 60 lakh or Rs. 75 lakh to the former scientist.

The Bench is also looking at a possibility of re-investigation into the role of then SIT officers who had framed the former scientist. The court also said that the officers involved in the investigation will have to pay from their own pockets.

Dr Narayanan was arrested in November 1994 by the Kerala Police on espionage allegations under sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Indian Official Secrets Act, 1923. He was remanded to police custody for 50 days where he was allegedly tortured by officials of Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau of India and his statements were obtained allegedly under duress. The Police claimed that he had passed on rocket technology and cryogenic technology to some other countries for illegal gratification. However, on the investigation by the CBI, the charges were found to be false and the findings of the CBI were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998.

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Details of the case

On 20th October 1994, Mariam Rasheeda, a Maldives native was the first one to be arrested for overstaying in Kerala. She was found to be connected to D Sasikumar, an ISRO scientist. Later, her friend, Fauzia Hassan was also arrested. A special investigation team formed on 15th November 1994 headed by DGP Siby Mathews took over the case and arrested Nambi Narayanan, Chandrasekharan and SK Sharam who were businessmen based in Bengaluru accusing them of selling ISRO’s cryogenic programme secrets to the women who were allegedly acting as spies for Russia, ISI and others.

The case was handed over to the CBI on 28th November 1994. The final report submitted by the CBI in April 1996 said that the case lacked evidence to substantiate the charges and all six were finally acquitted by the court.

Narayanan introduced the liquid rocket fuel technology in India in the early 70’s and was the first to build a successful 600-kg liquid motor engine and went on making even bigger one. He and his team also developed the ‘Vikas engine’ which was used in Indian’s moon mission. The ISRO spy case did not only finish the careers of two exceptionally talented scientists but also put India’s cryogenic engine development programme on hold for more than 19 years.

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