The Supreme Court on Friday, December 2, 2022, quashed the anticipatory bail granted by the Kerala High Court to former police and intelligence officers, including retired Kerala Director General of Police Siby Mathews, accused of being part of a conspiracy to frame ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan in an espionage case in 1994.
A Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah remitted the anticipatory bail applications of the accused officers to the High Court for fresh consideration.
The apex court, in its judgment, directed the High Court Registry to list the case before the High Court Bench concerned within a week from December 2.
The High Court was asked to hear and finally decide the case at the earliest but not outside four weeks’ time.
Justice Shah, accompanied by Justice C.T. Ravikumar on the Bench, protected the accused, provided they cooperate with the investigation and without prejudice to the probe agencies, from arrest for the next five weeks till the High Court finally decided their anticipatory bail pleas. The Bench asked the High Court to decide their pleas without being influenced by the interim arrangement.
The Bench said it has not commented on the merits of the case. It was left to the High Court to pass an appropriate order on the anticipatory bail pleas in accordance with the law after considering the merits.
The CBI had challenged the bail given by Kerala High Court to the accused including Mr. Mathews, PS Jayaprakash, Thampi S. Durga Dutt, Vijayan and R.B Sreekumar.
The CBI, which had appealed the bail in the apex court, had claimed the possibility of a “larger conspiracy involving foreign powers” which had stalled the technology to develop the cryogenic engine by decades. The agency had challenged the bail granted to the accused persons at the very “threshold” of its investigation.
“The frame-up led to the arrest of scientists. The technology for the cryogenic engine was deliberately stalled for at least two decades... May be a larger conspiracy involving foreign powers... Grant of anticipatory bail at the threshold may harm the investigation,” Additional Solicitor-General S.V. Raju, for the CBI, had submitted during the hearing.
The High Court, while granting anticipatory bail, had observed that there was “not even a scintilla of evidence” to suggest that the former police officers and intelligence officials were influenced by any foreign power so as to induce them to hatch a conspiracy to falsely implicate the scientists with the intention to stall the activities of the ISRO regarding the development of cryogenic engine.
The CBI had arraigned 18 people as accused in the case after the Supreme Court-appointed Justice D.K. Jain Committee found fault with them for booking cases against the scientists.
The committee had also found that some of the accused were involved in the deliberate leakage of information to the media to create a narrative implicating the scientists and to arrest them without any material on record to show their involvement in the alleged espionage.