CBI had recommended action against them who were part of SIT

The ‘ISRO espionage case’ that shook the very foundation of the Indian Space Research Organisation in the early 1990s took a crucial turn away from public eye over a year ago when the Oommen Chandy government, just 43 days into office, decided to close a long pending file seeking action against three key police officers who probed the case, it has emerged.

The file related to the recommendation of the Central Bureau of Investigation that action be taken against the officers, all members of a special investigation team, for ‘unprofessional conduct’. The officers were the then DIG (Crime), Siby Mathews, who rose to become an ADGP and is currently the Chief Information Commissioner in Kerala; the then Circle Inspector (Special Branch), S. Vijayan; and the then Superintendent of Police, K.K. Joshua. Mr. Mathews’ team had come out with the espionage theory in the case, which began with the arrest of a Maldivian woman on charges of overstaying in India.

The case destroyed the careers of senior ISRO scientists Nambi Narayanan and D. Sasikumaran. The former was in the news recently when the Kerala High Court ruled in his favour on an appeal by the State government against a 2001 order of the National Human Rights Commission for paying an ‘immediate relief’ of Rs.10 lakh against his claim of Rs. 1 crore as compensation.

The CBI could find no evidence to corroborate the statements made by the special investigation team in the case diary. The Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kochi, discharged all the accused on May 2, 1996. The CBI also sent a report to the State government ‘on the role of certain officials of the Kerala police in the investigation of the case in April 1996 itself.

The CBI’s recommendation was placed before the then Chief Minister, E.K. Nayanar, in December 1997, but he chose not to issue any order, citing a pending appeal from the scientists and the CBI against the government decision to withdraw an earlier notification referring the case to the CBI. The apex court finally decided the appeal in favour of the scientists and the other accused. This judgment came on April 29, 1998, but the file proposing action against the police officials remained under the carpet for 13 years.

It was finally closed by the Oommen Chandy government on June 29, 2011, soon after coming to office. The reason ascribed to dropping the charges against the officials in the summing up paragraph of the order is as follows: “… Government are of the view that it is not proper or legal to take disciplinary action against the officials for the alleged lapses pointed out in the investigation report of the CBI at this juncture, after the lapse of 15 years and therefore Government decide that no disciplinary action need be taken against the above officials for their alleged lapses in the investigation of the ISRO Espionage case ....”

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