The Supreme Court on Friday quashed the Kerala high court order granting anticipatory bail to four people including a former Director General of Police in the case related to the alleged frame-up of scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 1994 ISRO espionage matter.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar allowed the plea filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation against the order, and remanded the matter back to the high court with a direction to decide the issue within four weeks from the date of receipt of its present order.
The top court at the same time directed that by way of an interim arrangement the four people will not be arrested for a period of five weeks from today subject to their cooperation in the investigation and till the bail applications are finally decided by the high court on remand.
The high court had granted anticipatory bail to former Gujarat DGP R B Sreekumar, two former police officers of Kerala S Vijayan and Thampi S Durga Dutt, and a retired intelligence official P S Jayaprakash. Sreekumar was then the Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau.
Narayanan expressed happiness over the apex court order and hoped that the high court will come out with a proper judgement.
"I am happy to hear about the Supreme Court order. Now that the matter has been reverted to the high court, I hope that it will come out with a proper judgement," Narayanan told PTI in Thiruvananthapuram.
The top court said the high court has neither considered the allegations against the respective accused nor the role played by them while granting anticipatory bail.
"It appears that the high court has made some observations without considering the individual role played by the respective accused when they were working in the Kerala Police/IB and without considering the nature of allegations against them, we are of the opinion that the matters need to be remanded to the high court to consider the anticipatory bail applications afresh."
While granting anticipatory bail to the four accused on August 13 last year, the high court had said, "There is not even a scintilla of evidence regarding the petitioners being influenced by any foreign power so as to induce them to hatch a conspiracy to falsely implicate the scientists of the ISRO with the intention to stall the activities of the ISRO with regard to the development of the cryogenic engine."
It had said unless there is specific material regarding their involvement, prima facie, it cannot be said that they were acting against the interests of the country.
The CBI has registered a case against 18 people for various offences, including criminal conspiracy in connection with the arrest and detention of Narayanan in the espionage case.
The case, which had hit the headlines in 1994, 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.
Narayanan, who was given a clean chit by the CBI, had earlier alleged that 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.
"In view of the above and for the reasons stated above, all these appeals are allowed. The impugned judgment and order passed by the high court are hereby quashed and set aside. All the anticipatory bail applications are remitted to the high court to decide the same afresh in accordance with law and on their own merits and in light of the observations made hereinabove.
"However, it is observed that this Court has not expressed anything on merits in favour of either of the parties and it is ultimately for the high court to pass appropriate order/s in accordance with law and on their own merits and in light of the observations made hereinabove," the apex court said.
The top court asked the high court to finally decide and dispose of the anticipatory bail applications on remand at the earliest but preferably within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of the present order.
"The Registry of the high court is directed to notify all these anticipatory bail applications before the concerned Bench taking up such matters within a period of one week from today.
"Till then, by way of an interim arrangement and without prejudice to the rights and contentions of the CBI before the high court, it is directed that for a period of five weeks from today and till the bail applications are finally decided by the high court on remand, the respondents herein original accused be not arrested, subject to their cooperation in the investigation," the bench said.
It also directed the high court to decide and dispose off the bail applications afresh on remand without in any way being influenced by the present interim arrangement and in accordance with law and on their own merits.