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ISRO espionage case: Supreme Court orders CBI to look into Jain panel report

Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan speaks to media in Thiruvananthapuram on September 14, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look into the Justice D.K. Jain Committee report on senior Kerala police officials who allegedly framed space scientist Nambi Narayanan in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) espionage case of 1994.

Also read: Centre urges Supreme Court to accept panel report on Nambi Narayanan frame-up

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said the report concerned a “serious matter” warranting a CBI probe.

“This requires a thorough investigation,” Justice Khanwilkar said.

“Registrar Judicial shall forward a copy of the report to the Acting Director, CBI, who may proceed in accordance with the law... Open to the CBI to treat the report as a preliminary enquiry report and proceed accordingly,” the order said.

The Supreme Court barred the public circulation of the contents of the report. The Supreme Court copy would be placed in a sealed cover.

Advocate Amit Sharma, for one of the police officers, retired ADGP Siby Mathews, said while Mr. Narayanan was heard out by the committee, Mr. Mathews was not called or given an opportunity to state his case.

Also read: High-level probe panel submits report to SC on Nambi Narayanan's illegal arrest

“Naturally, the accused need not be heard before registration of offence...” Justice Khanwilkar reacted.

The Centre has also put its weight behind a report filed by a three-member Committee chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice D.K. Jain.

The Centre had applied to the Supreme Court, urging it to accept on record the inquiry report submitted by the Justice Jain Committee and take suitable action on the suggestions made within against the “erring officials”.

Mr. Narayanan, in his petition before the Supreme Court, had arraigned Mr. Mathews, K.K. Joshwa and S. Vijayan, the latter two had retired in senior positions in the police, as responsible.

The Committee was constituted by the Supreme Court in September 2018 to find out “ways and means to take appropriate steps against the erring officials”.

Also read: Beyond recompense: on the ISRO spy case

The court had allowed the Central and State governments to nominate one officer each to the committee. The Centre had appointed a top official, D.K. Prasad, and the Kerala government appointed former additional chief secretary V.S. Senthil.

At the time of his arrest on November 30, 1994, Mr. Narayanan was working on cryogenic engine technology at the ISRO. The police investigators had accused him of passing on documents and drawings of the ISRO relating to the Viking/Vikas engine technology, cryogenic engine technology and the PSLV flight data/drawings to Pakistan.

But the Supreme Court had dismissed the case in 2018 as a criminal frame-up based on “some kind fancy or notion”. It said Mr. Narayanan’s career got “smothered”. The scientist himself had said the prosecution launched by the Kerala Police had a “catastrophic effect” on his career and personal life besides setting back the technological advancement in space research.

The CBI, which took over the probe from the Kerala Police, had promptly filed a closure report in 1996. But Mr. Narayanan had fought on to bring his accusers to justice.

The Supreme Court, in its 2018 judgment, had called the treatment meted out to the scientist while he was in custody as “psycho-pathological”.

Though it had ordered the Kerala government to pay Mr. Narayanan ₹50 lakh as compensation, the court said mere money was not enough to make up for the torture the scientist had endured for 24 years. An inquiry was called for into the circumstances behind the “frame-up”.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 5:32:06 AM |

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