ISRO scientist Nambi Narayan, framed in 1994 on fake charges of being a spy, in exclusive conversation with India Legal on his victory in the Supreme Court
Nambi Narayanan was 53-years-old and in charge of the cryogenics division at the Indian Space Research Organsiation (ISRO) when he was arrested in 1994 on charges of spying. He was cleared by the CBI two years later but his fight to restore his honour continued for another two decades.
In 2015, Narayanan moved the Supreme Court to restore his honour and punish a nexus of powerful officials and policemen who framed him in the case. Last week, Narayanan won the battle. The apex court awarded him Rs 50 lakh in compensation and set up a committee to look into the role played by senior Kerala police officials in fabricating the case against him.
Narayanan spoke exclusively to NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram for IndiaLegal. Excerpts of the interview:
Q. Twenty four years have passed since you started your fight for justice. Now that the Supreme Court has ordered that compensation be granted to you and also constituted a committee headed by a former Supreme Court judge to probe further, how do you feel?
NN: We cannot escape from the system that causes the delay. It is high time we make some changes in the system, keeping in mind the delay being caused in the dispensation of justice.
Q. Do you feel that at last justice has been done to you?
NN: One of my main demands was for compensation. That has been granted. That is delinked from my civil suit. I can continue with the civil suit. With this judgment I should be able to get the civil suit speeded up. The other demand – I wanted them (erring police officials) to be punished. The court is constituting a committee; one headed by a judge, a great judge. The committee consisting of three members will look into the ways and means to punish them (erring police officials). Based on their recommendations, the Supreme Court will act.
Q. You sought punishment for (errant police officials) Siby Mathews and others. But the Court awarded something else?
NN: No, the SC has taken a step. I asked for a CBI probe into why this espionage case happened. They said why not a probe by a state agency. My view was that state government cannot act against its own police. Finally, they (judges) must have thought that it would be better to leave it to the Committee. Now, it has abundantly been proved that it was a malicious prosecution. As far as I am concerned, my innocence is not only proved, it is accepted , acknowledged and given the seal of the Supreme Court.
Q. The judgment has political ramifications. Children on former chief Minister, the late K Karunakaran, say he has not got justice yet.
NN: Karunakaran was an able politician. But his people should have taken efforts to get him justice. Had they revealed the names behind the conspiracy? The sister and brother (PadmajaVenugopal and K Muralidharan, the late CM’s children) speak differently. This is my opinion, they are not telling truth.
Q. If the espionage case had not happened, do you think, life would have been different for you?
NN: I cannot predict. If I say I would have become the Prime Minister or the ISRO chairman, will it make sense? It is my perspective. Only thing I can say for sure is that the Cryogenic system could have been developed long back. Perhaps by the year 2000. Certainty I would have gone up the ladder. I was working for ISRO and making India a space power.
Q. Have you had any regret in returning from NASA to re-join the ISRO?
NN: Up until I was targeted in the espionage case I had no regret. I had no craze for luxury. Simple survival; that was all I wanted. I had no craze to work abroad or to amass wealth. I don’t care for such things.
Q. How did your family take it?
NN: It was they who suffered the most. Though they had hidden their mental agony from me, I knew they were suffering a lot. My colleagues were sympathetic. But, they were also afraid. Nobody had any clue on what was happening. I engaged the best of lawyers. Kalam (APJ Abdul Kalam) asked me why I continue to struggle with the court cases. He asked me to stay with him. He actually said there was a court above (referring to God) and none could escape it. Besides Kalam, stalwarts like Sathish Dhawan, TN Seshan, Narasimhan, Chandresekhar, Prof Yashpal wrote an open letter, a strongly worded one, asking that ‘what nonsense you (Kerala police) were doing’. Even top CBI officers said it was a false case. They conducted lie detector tests on six accused. But they (Kerala police officials) never agreed to go through the lie detection (sic). Question remains why the case was fabricated. If it was to topple Karunakaran, it’s a small crime. If it was to sell the country, the rest of the life you will remain in prison.
Q. Do you suspect any involvement of external agencies behind the entire incident?
NN: My gut feeling is that there are chances for some external agencies being involved to retard the progress of India’s space programme.
Q. Media too sensationalized the case; only few organizations exercised restrain in their reportage.
NN: Yes. Media did a severe damage. But my feeling is that the media is not at all intelligent enough to create such a story. There were five to six people from the leading Malayalam dailies… (he tells the names) to produce volumes of filth. Some of them had come to my house and personally apologised .My view is that if anybody commits a crime he should be punished. I am not magnanimous enough to pardon them. In spite of all such attacks from the media many journalists stood by me. They had stated that it was a cock and bull story. Cryogenic technology was not available with India in 1994. Using that technology no missile had ever been launched anywhere in the world. If anyone had that much elementary knowledge about this, such absurdity would not have been served through their papers. The SIT under Siby Mathews did not even raid my office or house even when they referred me as the kingpin.
You (Siby Mathews) were the SIT head, Sherlock Holmes (A major daily described him as the Sherlock Holmes of Kerala). But why didn’t you question me? He flouted the responsibility of the IPS officer.
When Vijayarama Rao and others from CBI came to me, they showed me their ID card, introduced themselves. But the Kerala police brought just constables to interrogate. Two guys in khakhi shorts and banyan (vest) stood behind me to beat me up.
Q. Your Plans?
NN: I had some plans other than ISRO. Some simple plans to make life easy for people; like helping to reduce the cost of multilevel car parking. Now amusement parks are offering nothing but pushing people into filthy water. There should be a combination of science and technology in amusement parks. Simulation chambers to make people think that they are moving up to the moon, to Mars. Such innovative ideas are there in my mind. Ten years back I had plans to make use of drones to detect pest attack on plants and vegetables and to check it with effective use of fertilizers.
Q. Are you a believer in God?
NN: Simple; God will always test you. You cannot expect that everything can happen as you wish. But, God has never let me down. He tests your endurance. Without his blessings, do you think I would have come out of this? They have fixed the case, fixed the criminal. They fabricated a case, created evidences. To come out of it, as I did, requires God’s blessings.