Will ask HC to consider afresh anticipatory bail pleas in ISRO espionage case: SC

PTI, Nov 28, 2022, 5:36 PM IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Monday it will ask the Kerala High Court to consider afresh the anticipatory bail pleas of four people, including a former Director General of Police (DGP), in a case of alleged frame-up of scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 1994 ISRO espionage matter.

It was hearing the CBI’s appeal against the high court order granting 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.

“What we propose is this ..We will say high court to consider the anticipatory bail applications afresh without in any way being influenced by any observations,” said a bench headed by Justice MR Shah.

Sreekumar was then the Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The bench, also comprising Justice CT Ravikumar, added it will, in the meantime, continue the protection from arrest granted to them.

The court observed the high court, in the order under challenge, committed certain errors including not considering and dealing with the individual allegations made by the accused.

“Two things high court has committed wrong…. The observation by the DK Jain committee (pertaining to the role of erring police officials in the 1994 espionage case) has not been considered at all. Individual allegations of each accused has not been dealt with and considered at all,” the court said.

“We will pass order accordingly. We will ask the high court to decide. We are continuing the protection… Let the high court consider everything afresh,” stated the court.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for CBI, argued the case was serious and did not concern a “private offence” but an “offence against the nation”, and the high court could not have granted anticipatory bail to the accused.

He said the CBI probe was initiated pursuant to the directions of the apex court to find out whether foreign powers were involved.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for the then IB official and defended the high court order, saying there was no allegation against him in the FIR and there was no basis to seek his custody for investigation.

The apex court had in November last year issued notice on the CBI’s plea filed in the matter.

The agency had said its probe found that some scientists were tortured and framed in the espionage case due to which the development of cryogenic engine was hit, setting back India’s space programme by almost one or two decades.

The CBI earlier alleged there was a clear indication that the accused were part of a team which had ulterior motives to torpedo the attempts of the ISRO for manufacturing the cryogenic engine.

While granting anticipatory bail to these 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 former ISRO scientist Nambi 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 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.

The CBI had said the then top police officials in Kerala were responsible for Narayanan’s illegal arrest.

The apex court had on September 14, 2018 appointed a three-member committee while directing the Kerala government to cough up a Rs 50 lakh compensation for compelling Narayanan to undergo “immense humiliation”.

Terming the police action against the ex-scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) “psycho-pathological treatment”, the apex court had in September 2018 said his “liberty and dignity”, basic to his human rights, were jeopardised as he was taken into custody and, eventually, despite all the glory of the past, was compelled to face “cynical abhorrence”.

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