ISRO espionage case: CBI lodges FIR against 'erring' cops

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New Delhi, May 3 (PTI) The CBI has registered an FIR against former Kerala police officials for allegedly framing space scientist Nambi Narayanan on false charges in the 1994 ISRO espionage case, officials said on Monday.

The CBI has officially refused to comment on the names of the accused in the FIR and the specific charges, but sources have said several former officials of the Kerala police have been named.

The Supreme Court, on April 15, directed the CBI to conduct further investigation into the allegations of the framing of Narayanan on false charges by the police, based on the findings of a three-member committee under retired apex court judge Justice DK Jain.

The court had also ordered that the findings of the committee should not be published.

'On the basis of the report, the Supreme Court directed the CBI to proceed in the matter in accordance with law, being a court-directed enquiry,' CBI Spokesperson RC Joshi said.

Accordingly, the CBI has registered a case, he added.

Narayanan (79), who was working at ISRO's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), was absolved of the espionage charges following the CBI probe. He had approached the Supreme Court seeking action against Kerala police officials.

Narayanan, the then director of the cryogenic project at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), along with the then ISRO deputy director D Sasikumaran, were arrested by the Kerala police in the 1994 case pertaining to the alleged selling of secret documents to Pakistan through a Maldivian woman, Rasheeda.

The police registered two cases at Thiruvananthapuram's Vanchiyoor police station in October and November of 1994 over stay beyond visa limits and espionage respectively against Rasheeda, who was arrested in the state capital for allegedly obtaining secret drawings of ISRO rocket engines to sell to Pakistan.

The arrest during the Congress government in Kerala assumed political colour when a section of the party leaders blamed the then chief minister K Karunakaran for the police action, leading to his resignation.

The cases were handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which gave a clean chit to Narayanan.

'In the espionage case, the CBI submitted a final report before the chief judicial magistrate, Ernakulam, which was accepted by the court. While submitting the said report, the allegations pertaining to espionage were found to be false,' Joshi said.

Narayanan approached the Supreme Court against a Kerala High Court judgment that said no action needed to be taken against former state director general of police (DGP) Siby Mathews, who was then heading the SIT, and two retired superintendents of police -- K K Joshua and S Vijayan -- who were later held responsible by the CBI for the scientist's illegal arrest.

Narayanan had said the Kerala police had 'fabricated' the case and the technology he was accused to have stolen and sold in the 1994 case did not even exist at that time.

The CBI, while giving a clean chit to the scientist, had said Mathews had left 'the entire investigation to the IB surrendering his duties' and ordered an indiscriminate arrest of the scientist and others without adequate evidence being on record.

On September 14, 2018, the apex court awarded a Rs-50 lakh compensation to Narayanan and ordered the formation of a committee for ascertaining the actual scenario, including the arrest and false implication of Narayanan.

The panel was also tasked with finding out ways for taking appropriate steps against the erring officials.

In its order, the Supreme Court had said, 'There can be no scintilla of doubt that the appellant, a successful scientist having national reputation, has been compelled to undergo immense humiliation. The lackadaisical attitude of the state police to arrest anyone and put him in custody has made the appellant to suffer the ignominy.' It accepted Narayanan's plea that the authorities, who were responsible for causing such a 'harrowing effect' on his mind, should face 'legal consequences'.

The home ministry constituted the three-member committee under Justice Jain, which submitted its report to the apex court after nearly two-and-a-half years of investigation.

On April 5 this year, the Centre moved the top court seeking an urgent hearing and consideration of the panel's report. After going through the report, the court ordered it to be kept in a sealed cover and not to be published.

It asked the CBI to take the findings of the report as part of its preliminary investigation and directed the agency to submit its report to it within three months.

The court rejected the submission of Mathews that he was not heard by the committee, while Narayanan was heard.

The bench said the committee was not to adjudicate the matter, but it had to go through the circumstantial evidence and form a prima facie view on the acts of omissions and commissions of the erring officials. PTI ABS RC