Punish those who wronged scientist

Former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Nambi Narayanan. PTI

With the Supreme Court observing that ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan was “arrested unnecessarily, harassed and subjected to mental cruelty” in an espionage case in which he was implicated in 1994, Narayanan’s quest for justice has taken another step forward. Narayanan was leading ISRO’s initiative to develop the cryogenic engine, when the Kerala police arrested and charged him under the Official Secrets Act. He was accused of passing on secret drawings and documents on the cryogenic engine to Pakistan. The case was then handed over to the CBI, which found it to be false. The CBI found that the Kerala police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) acted “unprofessionally” in the matter. Although Narayanan was exonerated as early as 1998, justice has proved elusive. The damage done to one’s reputation is hard to undo. Besides, no action was taken against the errant police officials. Those who falsely implicated Narayanan and deliberately whipped up a frenzy and furore in the country over espionage — the CBI in its report named Kerala police officers Siby Mathews, KK Joshwa and S Vijayan, and IB officers RB Sreekumar and Mathew John -- were not punished. They were protected and rewarded with high positions.

The Supreme Court has now taken a step towards bringing these officials to justice. It has ordered the constitution of a committee headed by DK Jain, a retired judge of the court, to probe the role of the Kerala police officers in the case. The role of IB officials should also be probed. The case had many dimensions. The scandal had an obvious political angle because it was aggravated and actively used by a section of the Congress in Kerala to bring down its own government, then led by K Karunakaran. There have also been persistent suspicions about the role of other players. The Supreme Court’s committee will not be able to unravel the entire matter, but it will hopefully lead to the punishment of all those who were directly involved in it. There is no deadline set for the committee’s work. But it should, at the earliest, ensure that the officials who implicated Narayanan and others who protected them are punished under the law. 

The Supreme Court has also ordered payment of Rs 50 lakh to Narayanan as compensation. No amount of money will undo the hurt and humiliation that the police heaped on the scientist by accusing him of being a traitor. But justice is not a just a matter of restoring his personal honour. The Nambi Narayanan case was a Dreyfus moment for India, and the country should be ashamed that an innocent person was framed, charged with the worst offence in the book and persecuted by its own law enforcement system. The nation owes to itself full closure of the case after 24 years. 

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