Former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Nambi Narayanan has won a legal battle that will salvage his reputation which was damaged beyond repair thanks to the poor investigation by police in an espionage case.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said it could direct the recovery of the compensation either from the officers who were involved in the probe or the state government which cannot evade vicarious liability.
Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. “It is not the case that his (Naryanan) reputation was not dented. We can direct that his reputation be restored and for the loss of reputation we can give the compensation. There is direct judgement to this effect and direct recovery from those officers who were involved in the investigation of the case,” the bench said.
The bench said there has to be a formulation in the law so that compensation can be quantified for the loss of reputation. It said it could “also direct for criminal investigation by the state against the officers involved for malafide prosecution of the petitioner (Naryanan).” “Officers involved in the investigation have to pay the proportionally from their pocket. The matter ends there. That is their liability and the only question remains is how much and when”, it said.
The court has held in many judgements that reputation was part of a person’s right to live with dignity and cannot be taken away. But this will be the first time when it will erase all adverse records against a person, who was once accused of espionage, to restore his reputation.
The compensation to make up for his pain and anguish could be around .`75 lakh, though a three-judge bench hearing the matter said “money doesn’t really solve your problem”.
“His reputation will stand restored,” the bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said. Nambi Narayanan, who has been fighting to restore his reputation and dignity since 1998 when he was acquitted of the charges by the top court, was present in court on Wednesday.
The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue tomorrow. 76-year-old Nambi Narayanan, while functioning as a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation, was arrested on November 30, 1994, alleging espionage by the Kerala Police under the Official Secrets Act. He was part of ISRO’s cryogenics division and was accused of selling sensitive technology to enemy countries, a charge that the CBI later found false. He was acquitted of the charges only in 1998, at the instance of the top court. He then filed for action against the erring officials.
Later, Narayanan had told the court that the entire probe in the ISRO case was found to be “malicious” and the CBI had filed a closure report which was accepted by the magistrate.
Yesterday, the top court had said it may ask the Kerala government to re-investigate the role of the then SIT officers who had framed former scientist in the case, but had ruled out the possibility of any departmental action against them due to the passage of time.
The apex court was hearing the plea of the Narayanan who sought action against former DGP Siby Mathews and others who were part of the Special Investigation Team in Kerala in 1994, which had probed the case in which he was framed. Kerala government had said that on investigation, it has found no role could be attributed to the police officers for false implication. Narayanan had also said that for 12 years, the state government refused to take any action and they are now claiming that nothing was found.
The CBI counsel had also said the agency had found the case to be fake and filed the closure report which has already been accepted by the court. The top court had asked the probe agency, whether it had conducted any investigation to find out and fix the responsibility of the errant officer. The CBI had replied in negative.
The former ISRO scientist had filed an appeal against the judgement of division bench of the Kerala High Court which had said no action needed to be taken against the former DGP and two retired Superintendents of Police, K K Joshua and S Vijayan, who were held allegedly responsible by the CBI for his illegal arrest.
(Sources from various agencies)