The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Kerala government to pay Rs 50 lakh compensation to a former Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientist and also ordered a probe into the role of senior police officers involved in framing him in the “Isro espionage scandal” that broke out in 1994 and shook the state and national politics, but was later proven to be fabricated and false.
Holding that “reputation of an individual is an insegregable facet of his right to life with dignity”, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the 76-year-old Nambi Narayanan was “arrested unnecessarily, harassed and subjected to mental cruelty”. The court asked the state government to pay the compensation within eight weeks.
The court also gave liberty to Narayanan to proceed with the civil suit pending with the Kerala High Court wherein he claimed more compensation. A Kerala court had in May 1996 accepted a police probe report said that the evidence collected indicated that the allegations of espionage against the scientists at Isro, including Narayanan, were not proved and were found to be false, and had discharged all the accused. The SC in 1998 quashed a notification by the Kerala government for reinvestigation, holding that the move was against good governance.
On Friday, the court constituted a committee headed by former SC judge DK Jain to find ways and means to take appropriate steps against the errant officers and asked the central and state governments to nominate one officer each to the panel. The espionage case pertained to allegations of transfer of certain confidential documents on India’s space programme to foreign countries by two scientists and four others, including two Maldivian women. The case was first investigated by the state police and later handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which found no espionage as was alleged to have taken place.
The scam also had its political fallout with a section in the Congress targeting then chief minister K Karunakaran over the issue, which eventually led to his resignation. Narayanan had moved the SC seeking criminal and disciplinary action against former DGP Siby Mathews and two retired superintendents of police, KK Joshua and S Vijayan, who were part of the special investigation team that had probed the matter. Mathews is currently Kerala chief information commissioner.
“It is quite vivid that emphasis has been laid on mental agony when a person is confined within the four walls of a police station or lock up. There may not be infliction of physical pain but definitely there is mental torment… The court cannot lose sight of the wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution, the humiliation and the defamation faced by the appellant,” the apex court 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 police custody has made the appellant to suffer the ignominy. The dignity of a person gets shocked when psycho-pathological treatment is meted out to him. A human being cries for justice when he feels that the insensible act has crucified his self-respect. That warrants grant of compensation under the public law remedy. We are absolutely conscious that a civil suit has been filed for grant of compensation. That will not debar the constitutional court to grant compensation taking recourse to public law,” the CJI stated in his judgment.
Welcoming the judgment, the former scientist said the Kerala police had “fabricated” the case and insisted that the technology he was accused to have stolen and sold in the 1994 case did not even exist at that time. “The Supreme Court has clearly stated that it was an illegal arrest. It also identifies and acknowledges the suffering and humiliation I have gone through,” he said. “The highest court of the country has accepted what I said. They (Kerala police) fabricated the case. The technology they said I stole and sold did not even exist then.”
Narayanan had submitted that the grant of compensation is not the solution and had urged that the authorities who have been responsible to cause such a harrowing effect on his mind should face legal consequences. He had challenged the division bench of the Kerala HC’s order that said that no action was required to be taken against former police officers who were held responsible by the CBI for his illegal arrest.