Why Was Nambi Narayanan Arrested?
Following the end of the Cold War, India was planning to make huge advancements in its space program by developing cryogenic technology. This technology would allow India to launch more powerful rockets, such as the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). For this purpose, India had made a deal with Russia, whereby the latter was supposed to supply a cryogenic engine and its related technology to India.
However, in July of 1993, the USA intervened and stated that if India purchased the cryogenic engine and technology, then it would be used to make ballistic missiles. Due to the mounting pressure from the United States, Russia cancelled the deal to sell cryogenic engines and technology. After the contract between India and Russia fell through, the then Indian Prime Minister, P.V Narasimha Rao, stated announced that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), would develop the cryogenic technology themselves. The ISRO appointed two scientists, Nambi Narayanan and D. Sasikumar, to oversee this project.
In 1994, the Kerala Police arrested Mariam Rasheeda, a Maldivian National, who was charged under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Section 7 of the Foreigners Order, 1948, for overstaying her Visa. The Kerala Police alleged that Rasheeda was subsequently found to be in possession of confidential documents relating to the development of the cryogenic engines. The Police contended that these confidential documents were obtained so that they could be sold to Pakistan and other countries such as China or the United States of America.
The Kerala Police claimed that Rasheeda had been working with Narayanan and Sasikumar to transfer India's technological secrets to Pakistan.Later, the police also named Chandrashekar, the Indian representative of the Russian Space Agency (Glavcosmos) as a part of this espionage, along with labour contractor SK Sharma and Rasheeda's friend and Maldivian national Fauzia Hassan. Narayanan was arrested and charged for espionage under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 in the year 1994.
Involvement of The CBI and The Unveiling of the False Charges of Espionage
Due to the high profile of this case, the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) was involved in this case in1994. The CBI conducted their own inquiries into this case.
The CBI found that the charges of espionage that were levied against the accused were absolutely bogus. Subsequently, the accused were exonerated by the CBI. Narayanan and Sasikumar were granted bail on 19th January 1995. However, the other accused languished in jail for much longer, with Rasheeda only being released in 1998.
In 1996, the CBI filed a report with the Chief Judicial Magistrate, which stated that they had found no proof of any espionage and that the case registered against Nambi Narayanan, and the other accused was fabricated as there was no concrete evidence to back these charges. The Court considered this report and accepted it. The Court accordingly discharged all the accused.
After Nambi Narayanan and the other accused had been discharged by the Court, the state government of Kerala moved the Supreme Court with an appeal in 1998 to conduct a reinvestigation into the allegations of espionage. The Apex Court dismissed this appeal on the grounds that this move was against good governance. Subsequently, in 2001, the National Human Rights Commission ordered the Kerala Government to pay Rs. 10 Lakh as interim relief to Nambi Narayanan, who sought Rs. 1 crore as compensation for the false accusations that had been levied against him.
Nambi Narayanan, in 2017, moved the Supreme Court to file a criminal case against the officers who had falsely implicated him in the 1994 espionage case. Following the lodging of this petition, the Supreme Court formed a committee, which was headed by Retd. Justice D.K. Jain. The Jain Committee was tasked with looking into the false allegations of espionage that Nambi Narayanan and the other accused had been charged with. The Committee also ordered the Kerala Government to pay Rs. 50 lakhs to Nambi Narayanan for the "harassment and torture" that he faced when he was arrested "unnecessarily".
After two and a half years, the Jain Committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court in April, 2021. After the report was submitted, the Ministry of Home Affairs sought an urgent hearing from the Supreme Court to take the Jain Committee Report on record and issue directions "regarding the steps to be taken against erring officials". However, the Report was sealed by the Supreme Court so as to not disclose any details to any of the parties involved.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar directed the CBI to treat the DK Jain Committee Report as a preliminary inquiry report and to investigate the matter further. The Court granted the CBI three months to submit its findings.
In July, the CBI lodged FIRs against some Kerala Police officials who had been involved in the fabrication of the espionage charges. These FIRs had been filed on the basis of the findings of the Jain Committee Report. However, the Apex Court stated that FIRs could not be filed on the basis of the findings of the Report and that the CBI had to conduct investigations of its own. "The report is only initial information. The CBI has to conduct its own investigation. We cannot rely fully on the report. The DK Jain Committee report is not the basis to prosecute you," stated the Court.
Recently ex-police officers S Vijayan (first accused), Thampi S Durga Dutta (second accused), and R B Sreekumar (seventh accused) and retired IB official P S Jayaprakash (eleventh accused), had approached the Kerala High Court for grant of anticipatory bail. The CBI contended that granting the accused anticipatory bail would impede upon the ongoing investigations into the false espionage charges. However, the Court granted the accused anticipatory bail on the grounds that they should not be incarcerated during the investigation of a case that took place "a quarter of a century ago". The Court stated that the accused were entitled to anticipatory bail. The CBI, as of now, is still conducting its investigation into the matter to find who all were responsible for the creation of the false espionage case.
Where is Nambi Narayanan Now?
In its 2018 verdict, the Supreme Court granted Nambi Narayanan Rs. 50 Lakh as compensation and recognised that he was "arrested unnecessarily, harassed and subjected to mental cruelty". The Court also ordered a probe into the Kerala Police and the role they played in the 1994 espionage case. Nambi Narayana welcomed this verdict with open arms.
In 2019, Narayanan was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his involvement in the development of the Vikas engine which was used to launch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
Nambi Narayanan published his first book, an autobiography in 2017, titled, "Ormakalude Bhramanapadham", which was later published in English as "The Orbit of Memories". He published his second book in 2018, a memoir about the 1994 false espionage case, titled, "Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived The ISRO Spy Case"
[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents.]