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ISRO spy case: SC says arrest of scientist Nambi Narayanan unnecessary, orders compensation of Rs 50 lakh

The court was hearing the scientist’s plea to prosecute senior police officials for framing him in the alleged 1994 ISRO spy scandal. The top court also granted Narayanan a compensation of Rs 50 lakh.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2018 22:42 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
ISRO,supreme court,ISRO spy case
Nambi Narayanan was arrested after the Kerala police nabbed Mariam Rasheeda — a Maldivian woman — on October 20, 1994.(PTI File Photo)

A full 24 years after he was falsely implicated as a spy and arrested by the Kerala police, the Supreme Court on Friday restored the honour of former space scientist S Nambi Narayanan, ordered the state to pay him Rs 50 lakh in compensation for putting him to “ immense humiliation” and instituted a probe into the fabrication of the case.

“Liberty and dignity of the appellant (Narayanan), which are basic to his human rights were jeopardized as he was taken into custody and, eventually, despite all the glory of the past, was compelled to face cynical abhorrence,” ruled a bench led by chief justice of India Dipak Misra, invoking the public law remedy by granting him compensation.

“The entire prosecution initiated by the State police was malicious and it has caused tremendous harassment and immeasurable anguish to the appellant,” the bench said.

Read: Heat yet to settle, Isro spy case returns to haunt Congress in Kerala

Narayananan,now 76, a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), was arrested in 1994 on charges of spying by Kerala police. He was later exonerated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which took over the case on the state government’s order. CBI’s closure report was accepted by a magistrate in May 1996. Although the state attempted to re-investigate the case, it was stopped from doing so by the top court, where Narayanan challenged the move.

“The Supreme Court has clearly stated that it was an illegal arrest. It also identifies and acknowledges the suffering and humiliation I have gone through,” Narayanan said in Thiruvananthapuram. “The highest court of the country has accepted what I said. They (Kerala police) fabricated the case. The technology they said I stole and sold did not even exist then,” he said, responding to the order.

The Kerala police arrested Mariam Rasheeda — a Maldivian woman — on October 20, 1994 for overstaying in India after the expiry of her visa. The arrest rapidly turned into a honey-trapping scandal allegedly involving two senior ISRO scientists, some businessmen and others. They were accused of passing on secrets related to ISRO’s cryogenic rocket programme to the woman, who in turn allegedly supplied them to Russia and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence.

In 1996, a CBI investigation cleared all the accused including Narayanan, who was instrumental in designing the systems used in Chandrayaan lunar probes, the Mars orbiter mission Mangalyaan and the Polar Launch Satellite Vehicle, the workhorse of the Indian space programme. It concluded that the entire scandal had been fabricated by Kerala police officers who had investigated the case.

The bench headed by CJI Misra also allowed Narayanan to proceed with a civil defamation suit in which he can claim more compensation.

Kerala has to pay Nayaranan within eight weeks. The order came on Narayanan’s petition demanding compensation from the State for the malicious prosecution launched against him.

“There can be no scintilla of doubt that the appellant, a successful scientist having a national reputation, has been compelled to undergo immense humiliation. The lackadaisical attitude of the State police to arrest anyone and put him in police custody has made the appellant suffer ignominy. The dignity of a person gets shocked when psycho-pathological treatment is meted out to him,” the court said, holding that a Constitutional court must take recourse to public law to compensate Narayanan.

The scientist’s arrest was a violation of his fundamental right, promised under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said. And, such a situation, it added, invited public law remedy because “life commands self-respect and dignity.”

CJI Misra’s bench also accepted the scientist’s request to hold an enquiry and take action against the police officers who framed him in the espionage case. A three-member committee headed by former judge of the Supreme Court, DK Jain, was entrusted with the task. Both the Centre and Kerala have to nominate an officer each.

The Centre will bear the cost of the enquiry and provide logistical facilities to the committee, the court said, rejecting Kerala’s opposition to the panel.

In 2001, the National Human Rights Commission ordered an interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh for Narayanayan. Meanwhile, the state government decided not to take any disciplinary action against its police officers. The scientist approached the top court and pleaded that the prosecution had a catastrophic effect on his service career as a leading and renowned scientist at ISRO. An irreparable and irremediable loss and setback had also been caused to technological advancement in space research in India, he contended.

Kerala maintained that there was sufficient evidence against the scientist. It even accused Narayanan of preparing to leave the country. CBI supported Narayanan and insisted that there were no incriminating records against him. Kerala said the CBI’s finding was unacceptable and itself required a probe.

First Published: Sep 14, 2018 11:19 IST