This is needed to prevent what happened to Nambi and so many others, who suffered professional deaths, actual deaths, or death by character assassination using fake allegations from happening to other scientists.

 

In his darkest phase in detention, Dr Nambi Narayanan was forced to stand continuously for 30 hours without food or water till he collapsed, all the while yelled at and insulted as a “traitor”, in addition to beatings on the head, neck and torso. That meets every textbook definition of torture. No police officer who participated in, or had vicarious responsibility for, the torture to manufacture fake evidence to destroy Dr Nambi, and those involved in perpetuating the multiple investigations, seemingly endlessly, in an attempt to “use allegations as a substitute for evidence” has been convicted of any offence yet. Dr Nambi has been honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan, and by the Government of Kerala with Rs 1.3 cr compensation, and additional exonerations by courts. But Nambi will never get back those lost years, not to mention the path-breaking work of his that meant more to him than his life.

MYSTERIOUS AND NOT-SO-MYSTERIOUS DEATHS

The then-head of India’s nuclear program, Dr Homi Bhabha, was among the 117 passengers and crew who all died on Air India Kanchenjunga that “accidentally flew” into Mont Blanc in Switzerland on the morning of 24 January 1966. Five years later, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who then headed the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), was “found dead” in a guest house in scenic Kovalam, Trivandrum, located on a then-isolated stretch near the beach. Nambi was at his peak productive age of 53 when the professional death for him was manufactured; and when they died, Bhabha was 56 and Sarabhai was 52, and at the time, India was very close to becoming a world space and nuclear power, certainly catapulting into every criteria of P-5 members of the UNSC, since at the time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, no country outside the P-5 had those capabilities. Many other scientists were also dying mysterious deaths for decades more until India’s first professor of geopolitics, appointed by Manipal University, connected the dots and showed how those “mysteries” were not so mysterious after all. Thereafter, there has been a lull in actual deaths. But now it appears to be deaths by character assassination using fake allegations, even on incidents that happened prior to the incumbent being in office, being used against him/her.

To prevent what happened to Nambi and so many others who suffered professional deaths, actual deaths, or deaths by character assassination using fake allegations from happening to other scientists, it is time for the Dr Nambi Narayanan Scientists’ Protection Act. Any Member of Parliament can introduce this bill and the government will naturally be compelled to take it up for adoption with its own text, given the extent of public support that the issue has. This is to prevent any police officer or indeed any miscreant from seeking to destroy scientists on the verge of breakthrough discoveries, inventions, who are contributing actively to the national interest.

FAKE ALLEGATIONS ARE A FORM OF EXTORTION

Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code defines extortion as “Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property, or valuable security or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits ‘extortion’.” Professional death is indeed grievous hurt. Section 386 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that “Whoever commits extortion by putting any person in fear of death or of grievous hurt to that person or to any other, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”. Amazingly, even lawyers are utilised to convey the threats of launching fake allegations and cases, while claiming that the advice is for the scientist’s own good to resign rather than face those long-drawn-out proceedings as a result of the manufactured allegations.

Thus, while there are clear provisions in the IPC for punishing those who level fake allegations for personal gain or other ulterior motives, otherwise described as camouflaged extortion, those provisions are rarely applied rigorously. It is important to apply the IPC provisions with alacrity especially in cases where vital national interests are threatened by frivolous charges made and magnified by paid-media purely for creating a sensational case out of nothing, as happened in the Nambi case, and by irresponsible usage of social media as is happening today. In the Nambi case, the then-Kerala government was also forced to resign in the process amidst infighting in the national political party that was at its helm.

The components of the Act should include mediation and arbitration, so that before capricious actions are taken under media and social media pressure, those properly schooled in science and technology, forensic accounting and other objective measures can apply their minds in manufactured-sensational cases just like Nambi’s and opine whether there is any basis in fact to proceed against the scientist. India’s fledgling mediation and arbitration industry would also receive a boost in the process. Even today, much of the arbitration in Asia is concentrated in Singapore, because of past lack of confidence in the snail-like processes in India.

The recent Kerala High Court quashing/removal (vacation) of a lower Tribunal’s stay on the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCT) Director case that has been highlighted in these columns is another example linked to a torrent of misleading allegations.

WHY THE NEED FOR SUCH AN ACT?

The ISRO fake spy case was able to delay India’s cryogenic engine by at least 15 years, thereby losing ground in the global race to cost-effectively launch satellites, tiny, small and large. The global space economy is worth about $500 billion, growing around 8% annually, with satellite launches and related commercial endeavours constituting 75% of it. The Colorado-based Space Foundation estimates it to become an annual $1 trillion global space economy in the next two decades. There was no one to exercise proper geo-economic and geo-political oversight over the actions of those police officers who tortured Nambi in 1994 using the fake case, and no one to link those actions to Atmanirbhar or the human rights of a leading scientist. The stark question before us is whether in fact the situation has remained unchanged even after the passage of nearly 20 years since then.

The medical devices industry has similar potential in an ageing world. Already, the global market is well above $200 billion, with the current Indian market being $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) growing by about 20% annually, 75% of which are imports. If “Make in India” and Atmanirbhar Bharat have to make a difference, just as ISRO was protected especially following the fake Nambi case, so too the pioneering medical devices institution of national importance, the SCT, needs urgent and high-level protection from what appear to be concerted, malicious attacks. Coronary artery stents alone command a $15 billion global market at present and it is dominated by just a few countries. SCT has already released a stent graft for aortic aneurysm, and has 40 years of experience with specialized materials combinations such as Nickel-Titanium alloy scaffolding, thereby signalling its promise if supported rather than wrecked, with the medical needs opportunities being so diverse, even for oesophageal stents. Further, SCT is led by the Department of Science and Technology’s first woman director, an internationally acclaimed movement disorder specialist in neurology, who has led the building of 37 essential medical devices projects, including her own project of developing India’s first Deep Brain Stimulation system in combination with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

AUTONOMY IS ESSENTIAL FOR INVESTMENT CONFIDENCE

Ensuring autonomy so that collaborations can be speedily effectuated to show a difference of the “New India” from the very old variety of endless ruminations over dusty files, is also equally essential to give confidence to foreign and domestic investors, including non-resident Indians and PIOs. It is worth remembering that despite the People’s Republic of China (PRC) having been a communist nation supposedly inimical to private investment since 1949, and from which nation the vast majority of overseas Chinese had fled to avoid persecution, historically, that same overseas Chinese community became convinced of the change in the PRC’s economic policies during the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping-regime even in the late 1970s, and they became strident advocates and participants in investment. A similar transformation in thinking by overseas Indians and other well-wishers of India, including Angel Venture Capitalists, now ensconced in multiple potential investor-corporations around the world is essential—and that can only be ensured by extensive granting of operational autonomy to national institutions, not bureaucratic attempts at stifling control as is still happening, including by the Department of Science and Technology’s recent actions over the autonomous institution of national importance, the SCT.

Protections to scientists and core national scientific interests should be ensured through the passage, soonest, in Modi 2.0 of the Dr Nambi Narayanan Scientists’ Protection Act.

Dr Sunil Chacko holds degrees in medicine (Kerala), public health (Harvard) and an MBA (Columbia). He was Assistant Director of Harvard University’s Intl. Commission on Health Research, served in the Executive Office of the World Bank Group, and has been a faculty member in the US, Canada, Japan and India.