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ISRO scientist seeks damages to end 'loose talk'

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"I always had faith in the Indian judiciary, and my trust was vindicated repeatedly," says S Nambi Narayanan, 57. His quest for justice has now led him to sue the Kerala government and police for ten million rupees for having tortured him mentally and physically, held him in prison and ruined his reputation by implicating him in the Mariam Rasheeda spy scandal four years ago, when he was deputy director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Valiamala in Kerala.

After spending more than quarter century with the ISRO in Kerala, and participating in the setting up of two of its most important centres -- the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Trivandrum and the LPSC at Valiamala -- Nambi is waiting out the last three years of his tenure in an unexciting job at Bangalore. He is now director, Advanced Technology and Planning, at Antariksh Bhavan, the ISRO headquarters in Bangalore.

"Until all that trouble blew up, I was very happy with my life and work in Kerala," says Nambi, as his friends affectionately call him. (He was then project director of the prestigious cryogenic system project and was working on developing an Indian cryoengine for the third stage of the GSLV). "After that, I was glad to leave Kerala, at least until all the loose talk blew over. ISRO had suspended me for a while when I was arrested. But they vindicated me after conducting a detailed enquiry and reinstated me. My organisation has been most supportive of me throughout: I just wish everyone else had been so considerate. This entire episode has been a shock for my whole family: it put us all into terrific financial, social and health problems."

It was this "loose talk" that he says finally motivated him to file this case, so that the men he regards as his torturers will finally be unequivocally declared wrong. "The respondents have not so far made any open declaration admitting their guilt," says the petition.

Nambi has not hesitated to list the various kinds of damage that he believes the Kerala government has caused him, and has quoted a figure against each head:

  • Arrest and detention in prison : Rs 1 million
  • Physical and mental torture: Rs 1.5 million
  • Loss of reputation: Rs 1.5 million
  • Re-registration of a false case: Rs 1 million
  • And so on, the sum total adds up to Rs 10 million. The people he has named in his petition include Sibi Mathew, Crime Branch IG in Trivandrum, Mathew John and R B Sreekumar, both IB joint directors at Delhi.

    Nambi directly accuses Sibi Mathew, in his petition, of trying to "achieve something for his personal glory" by implicating him in the case even after finding out that he was not connected with it. Nambi, another ISRO scientist D Sasikumaran (now posted at Ahmedabad), labour contractor D K Sharma and businessman K Chandrashekar, both from Bangalore, were all arrested on charges of helping Maldivian Mariam Rasheeda and her friend Fouzia Hassan to try and smuggle some space secrets and blueprint plans out of the country.)

    He also accuses Sibi, Mathew John and Sreekumar of instigating some other unidentified police officers to physically assault him at the Hindustan Latex guesthouse in Trivandrum in early December 1994, call him a bastard and a traitor, and try to get him to implicate Dr A E Muthunayakom, then director of LPSC, in a treason case. Nambi claims that the police officers told him that they would then make Muthunayakom implicate then ISRO chairman U R Rao himself in the case. Nambi says he refused to oblige, even though he knew that would lead to more torture, which he now claims it did. He says that he eventually fainted because of all the torture, and was treated by a Dr Sukumaran of Sree Krishna hospital, at the guesthouse itself.

    Nambi was subsequently released after spending about 50 days in custody, some of them at Malligai, the famous interrogation centre on Greenways Road in Madras, where he was repeatedly questioned by the CBI. He was eventually let out on bail in mid-January. The CBI subsequently filed a case clearing Nambi and the others.

    Meanwhile, he says, Sen and Sibi also gave "false information" to "various newspapers," who went on to describe him as a "traitor of this country." All this led to the general public viewing him as "a spy of some foreign country and a traitor." Consequently, "the inmates of the family were not able to face the public and their future has been marred." He says the CBI "also recommended to the central government to initiate action against the officials of the IB and others who acted illegally in cooking up the case." But this was, of course, never done.

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