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Who is Nambi Narayanan?

It took him 24 years to clear his name in a spy scandal case. On September 14, the Supreme Court held that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Nambi Narayanan was the victim of a criminal frame-up based on “some kind of fancy or notion.” A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, said the Kerala police had trumped up allegations of espionage against the scientist.

What is the case?

On November 30, 1994, Mr. Narayanan was produced before the magistrate court in Thiruvananthapuram by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Kerala police on the charge of trading India’s space secrets to foreign agents for money and other enticements.

What was his position?

Mr. Narayanan, then 50, was the head of the ISRO’s promising Cryogenics Division and was on the ascendant in the organisation. More importantly, he was part of a group of top scientists whom the ISRO had tasked to scout for the cryogenic technology to propel the space programme to greater heights.

Why was he shamed?

Outside the court that day in 1994, the crowd grew restive as it spotted Mr. Narayanan hunkered down between officers in a police van. Salacious stories in the media about how a tall, athletic woman from the Maldives, Mariam Rasheeda, ostensibly working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, had enticed top ISRO scientists into selling her secret rocket technology triggered indignation. The mob greeted Mr. Narayanan with boos, jeers and catcalls. The police threw a human wall around him. The public shaming would haunt Mr. Narayanan and his family for years.

How did he fight it?

Mr. Narayanan’s struggle for redemption from the humiliation of the false charge ended this September. The police had subjected Mr. Narayanan to cruel “pscyho-pathological” torture in custody. Mr. Narayanan himself would recall later that his inquisitors had made him stand for hours at a stretch, deprived him of sleep and refused him water. They threatened to implicate his family and colleagues in the case if he did not confess to the imagined crime. The scientist endured 50 days as an undertrial in a prison cell.

Why did CBI close the case?

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the case immediately. In 1996, it closed the case citing lack of evidence. Its closure report doubled as a damning indictment of the police. It highlighted police lapses and questioned the dubious methods used by local investigators to validate what it called a trumped-up charge. Mr. Narayanan later told journalists that only some “half-wit” could have invented the case.

“How can I sell a technology [cryogenic] that was not existent in India in 1994? Why on earth would any entity want to cultivate me as a spy to sell them a technology [Vikas/Viking engine] which was available in the open market and as common as brinjal,” he asked.

What happens now?

Mr. Narayanan, who is 74, has, at a steep personal cost, successfully ended a protracted and bitter legal battle to restore his honour and bring his accusers to book. The successive governments in the State had been dismissive of Mr. Narayanan’s demand for action against the errant officers who ruined his life. In 1996, the State government disregarded the CBI’s closure report and ordered a fresh police inquiry against Mr. Narayanan and others. However, the Supreme Court halted the move.

The Supreme Court has decided to hold the errant officers accountable. It has formed a committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge D. K. Jain, to find “ways and means” of prosecuting them. It has also awarded Mr. Narayanan ₹50 lakh in compensation. However, the scientist says the case is far from over. The Jain committee is likely to look into the possible conspiracy behind the episode that dashed several reputations and ruined innocent lives, he feels.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 9:44:27 AM |

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