ISRO spy case: SC quashes order granting anticipatory bail to 4

A bench of justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar allowed the plea filed by the CBI and remanded the matter back to the high court and directed it to decide the issue within four weeks.
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of IndiaFile

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday quashed a Kerala High Court order granting anticipatory bail to four people, including a former Director General of Police (DGP), in a case of alleged frame-up of scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 1994 Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) espionage matter.

The CBI had registered the 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.

A bench of justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar allowed the plea filed by the CBI and remanded the matter back to the high court and directed it to decide the issue within four weeks.

''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,'' it 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.

The apex court also directed the high court to decide and dispose of 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.

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 to the accused.

''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,'' the bench said.

The judgement came on 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.

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

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 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 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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