The recently surfaced closure report filed in 1996 by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) “spy” case, had confirmed the allegations that the then top Intelligence Bureau (IB) officers and senior officials of the Kerala police not only harassed innocent senior scientist Nambi Narayanan, but their action pushed back India’s efforts to develop the cryogenic engine by many years. Nambi Narayanan was the first project director of India’s cryogenic programme.

In the 32-page report, the CBI had clearly said that no case of any secret document being stolen could be made out, as was alleged by the IB and Kerala police. “The allegations that Nambi Narayanan and D. Sasikumar might have passed on the documents to a third party is found false,” the report says. D. Sasikumar was another ISRO scientist who was arrested in the case.

The report went on to say: “The investigation carried out by the CBI has disclosed that no ISRO documents were secreted out nor any money paid to or received by the accused persons arrested by the police. The internal audit made by the ISRO indicates that the documents and drawings running into several thousands relating to ISRO are intact; nothing has been found missing which could have had a bearing on national security.” The closure report was filed by the CBI in April 1996.

According to the report, the IB chief was updating the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with daily interrogation notes mentioned as “UO” (Un-Official) about the espionage case.

The closure report had dealt extensively with the illegal, questionable and unprofessional methods adopted by the IB in the case. The report, quoting one official of the Kerala CID (Criminal Investigation Department), who was involved in the initial stages of the probe, stated, “The IB had already come to the conclusion regarding the involvement of the accused in the espionage case even before the case was registered and therefore he (the CID officer) did not feel it necessary to verify the facts. He has also stated ‘it was difficult on our part to digest the above conclusion of the IB, but we were helpless’.”

In the latter part of the closure report, the CBI laid down the acts of commission and omission on the part of Intelligence Bureau officers that it came across. The IB officers conducted the interrogation (of the accused) in a hush-hush manner, totally disassociating the Kerala police for reasons best known to them.

During the interrogation, they tortured/ill treated at least three of the accused, including Nambi Narayanan. Two of the accused, including Narayanan, needed medical treatment, which is indicative of the torture meted out to them.

IB officers interrogated Nambi Narayanan, but did not prepare the interrogation report. It appears their statements (statements of other accused apart from Narayanan) were not recorded as they did not toe the line suggested by the IB officials.

The interrogation of the accused were video-graphed by the IB officers and the tapes were produced in the Kerala High Court, but none of the officers during their examination admitted having videographed the interrogation of the accused nor did they reveal the name of the IB officer who videographed the interrogation. What is surprising is that even the Joint Director, IB, who was in charge of the interrogations overall, failed to identify these officers.

The IB officers did not verify the veracity of the statements of the accused for reasons best known to them. If they had done so professionally, the air would have been cleared a long time ago and the honour of the respectable scientists could have been saved.

As per the report, the CBI’s inquiry has clearly shown that the IB officials who inquired into the ISRO case “acted in an unprofessional manner, (and) were privy to the arrest of six innocent persons, thereby causing immense mental and physical agony. The senior officers who were supervising and monitoring the enquiries, particularly, Mathew John, Joint Director and R.B. Sreekumar (Deputy Director) failed in their duty to conduct the inquiry in an objective and fair manner…leading to serious complications, including casting doubts on the integrity of two top ISRO scientists who were responsible for developing the PSLV projects and launching our country into the space.”

The ISRO spy case had surfaced in 1994 when Nambi Narayanan, along with another top official of ISRO, two Maldivian women and a businessman, was arrested on alleged espionage charges which proved to be false. The case was transferred to the CBI, which dismissed the charges in 1996. Later, the Supreme Court, too, upheld the CBI’s conclusion in 1998. The CBI, while giving a clean chit to Narayanan, also recommended action against the officials who had cooked up the case.

Narayanan had in the past named R.B. Sreekumar, former DGP of Gujarat, Mathew John, the then Joint Director of IB and former Kerala DGP Siby Matthews as being involved in the plot against him. 

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