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Supreme Court awards Rs 50 lakh compensation to former ISRO scientist for wrongful arrest and harassment

The Supreme Court has today awarded former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan a compensation of Rs 50 lakhs for his wrongful arrest and harassment by the Kerala Police in the 1994 ISRO spy case. According to reports, the court has also ordered a probe into the role of the police officers involved in Narayanan’s arrest and alleged harassment in custody. The three-member probe panel is to be headed by former judge DK Jain.

A bench comprising of CJI Deepak Mishra, justice AM Khanwaliker and justice DY Chandrachud pronounced the verdict today. The bench reportedly observed that Nambi Narayanan was needlessly arrested and tortured in the 1994 case. The bench also ordered that the other two members of the panel headed by DK Jain will be nominated by the central government and the state government of Kerala respectively.

Nambi Narayanan was a scientist in ISRO and headed the cryogenics division. In November 1994, Narayanan was arrested by the Kerala police after allegations of espionage under the sections 3,4 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act. After his arrest, he was remanded in police custody for a period of 50 days during which he was reportedly harassed and tortured by officials of Kerala police and the Indian intelligence bureau. However, after an investigation by the CBI, the allegations on him were found to be false and in 1998, the Supreme Court upheld the findings by the CBI.

Narayanan’s arrest had come at the wake of the infamous ISRO spy case. In October 1994, Mariam Rasheeda, a citizen of Maldives, was arrested for overstaying her visa. Upon investigation, it was found that Rasheeda was connected with Dr Sasikumar, another scientist of the cryogenic division. It was only after the arrest of Rasheeda’s accomplice, Fauzia Hassan that the Kerala police and the intelligence bureau realized that the women were part of an espionage ring. An SIT headed by DGP Siby Matthews had then arrested Dr Nambi Narayanan, and two other men named Chandrasekharan and a Bengaluru based businessman on charges of selling space research secrets to Russia and other countries.

The case was later handed over to the CBI and in 1996, the CBI had submitted its final report saying that the charges on Dr Narayanan and others were false. In 1998, the SC had upheld the findings and had asked the Kerala government to pay Rs 1 lakh in compensation to Dr Narayanan and others. However, Dr Narayanan had approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)seeking justice for the harassment and agony meted out to him. In 2001, the NHRC had awarded a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs to him.

Todays’s verdict was over the appeal filed by Dr Narayanan against the order of the Kerala HC which had stated that no action was needed against the investigating officers who had arrested Dr Narayanan in 1994.

Dr Narayanan is one of the pioneers of liquid rocket fuel technology in India. The initial research of his time was also used in India’s moon mission.

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