Fought this case for my family: ISRO's Nambi Narayanan

Narayanan was accused of selling vital secrets to Pakistan. He spent 50 days in jail along with five others.

ISRO spy case: Happy with Supreme Court verdict, says Nambi Narayanan
NEW DELHI: At least there was some light at the end of the tunnel, former Isro scientist S Nambi Narayanan told ETon Friday, adding that while partial justice has been delivered, it was important that the judicial committee enquiry got over at the earliest so that his tormenters could be punished.

Narayanan said he was “unnecessarily arrested and harassed” by the Kerala Police. The SC has also set up a committee under Justice DK Jain to look into his complaint against police officers who framed him.

Working in the cryogenics division at ISRO, Narayanan was among the first to foresee the need for liquid fuelled engines for Isro’s future civilian space programmes.

He introduced the technology in India as early as the 1970s. However, Narayanan was later accused of selling vital secrets to Pakistan. He spent 50 days in jail along with five others, although he was later acquitted by a CBI court and then the Supreme Court in 1998.

Narayanan said the second part of the struggle is still not over. “I am happy that the judiciary did not let me down. Now they have put in place a committee to investigate the matter...There are parts of the judgement which are not clear to me, so my lawyers are working on it.”

Clarifications with respect to the timeline of the committee and the terms of reference under which it will work are important and they need to be made clear, he added. Narayanan added he was not particularly interested in pursuing this case further. “I turned 77 recently.

I have been only working and fighting, forgetting completely that there was a family that stood like a rock behind me. Whatever little more life I have, it is for my family.”

The scientist said it was important for him to clear his name for the sake of his family. “When this started, I was sure they have fixed me. The crime was established and evidence was arranged after that. There were times when I did not even want to live, because how would you fight a case that was fabricated but still being propelled.”

“My children sensed my thoughts then. They told me if I die, they will forever be known as children of a spy. They told me I was the only person who can prevent such a disgrace on my family. It was then that living to fight this became a necessity for me,” he said.

Recalling the time when he came back to India from the US at the behest of Vikram Sarabhai, he said there was not one day when he regretted giving up American citizenship till the case came up. “But over the years I have realised that this is our country and there are all kinds of people. Many do wrong and get help from the system and politicians and manage to get away. Justice is complete only when innocents don’t get framed and the guilty is punished.”

A scientist’s 24-year old battle to clear his name... Of broken careers, tarnished reputation and politics
  • 1994 October: Mariam Rasheeda, alleged to be a Maldivian intelligence offi cer, arrested in Thiruvananthapuram for obtaining secret drawings of ISRO rocket engines to sell to Pakistan
  • November 30:S Nambi Narayanan, director of cryogenic project at ISRO, arrested along with deputy director D Sasikumaran for allegedly passing on defence secrets to Rasheeda and her friend, Fauzia Hassan, who is also taken into custody. Others arrested in the espionage case are: K Chandrasekhar, the Indian representative of a Russian space agency; and SK Sharma, a labour contractor. Narayanan spends 50 days in custody
  • January 1995: ISRO scientists and businessmen are released on bail
  • April: Karunakaran forced to quit. The spy scandal also has its political fallout, with a section in the Congress targeting the then CM K Karunakaran over the issue that eventually led to his resignationThe anti-Karunakaran faction was led by Oommen Chandy which accused the CM of protecting the then IG Raman Srivastava, who was alleged of having a role in the case though he was not an accused
  • April-May 1996: CBI files own investigation but found no evidence of espionage as was alleged to have taken place. Kochi chief judicial magistrate discharges all the accused on May 2. Earlier, CBI had also sent a report to the state government on the role of some police officials (the then DIG (crime) Siby Mathews, the then SP KK Joshua and circle inspector (special branch) S Vijayan) in the investigation
  • June 27: Kerala government issues a notifi cation directing further investigation in the case by the fi rst investigation team. This is challenged
  • November: Kerala High Court dismisses the challenge, and upholds the state government’s notifi cation which was later quashed by SC
  • 1997: CBI’s recommendation (of April 1996) was placed before the then CM, EK Nayanar, in Dec, but he chose not to issue any order, citing a pending appeal from scientists and CBI against the state’s decision to withdraw an earlier notifi cation referring the case to the CBI
  • April 29, 1998: SC awards compensation of Rs 1 lakh to Narayanan and others, who were discharged in the case; directs Kerala to pay amount. But this does not address issue
  • April 1999: Narayanan approaches the NHRC claiming compensation from the state for the mental agony and torture suffered by him
  • March 2001: NHRC awards Narayanan interim compensation of `10 lakh, asks state to pay up. The state government challenges the award
  • 2011: Newly elected Kerala govt decides to close fi le seeking action against the police officials
  • September 2012: HC directs the state to pay Rs 10 lakh to Narayanan
  • March 2015: Kerala govt order challenged by Narayanan in HC; single judge allows plea, directs govt to act against the 3 officers and complete proceedings in 3 months. This order is challenged by Siby before division bench, which quashes the single-bench order. Nambi Narayanan finally moves SC
  • April 2017: SC hearing on Narayanan’s plea seeking action against Siby, others
  • May 3: Three-judge bench comprising CJI Dipak Misra, justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud says it is considering awarding Narayanan a compensation of Rs 75 lakh and restoring his reputation
  • May 8: SC says it is considering asking Kerala government to reinvestigate role of SIT officers in the case
  • May 9: SC says Narayanan has faced a dent in his reputation due to “mala fi de prosecution” and Kerala government cannot evade “vicarious liability” to grant him compensation
  • July 10: SC reserves verdict; CBI tells SC it was ready for a court-monitored probe into the allegations by Narayanan
  • September 14: SC awards Rs 50 lakh compensation to Narayanan; forms threemember panel headed by former judge DK Jain to probe framing of Narayanan in the spy case
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