First, the disclaimer: I am the co-author of former Indian Space Research Organisation scientist S Nambinarayanan’s autobiography, ‘Ready to Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case’.
For those who missed the most exciting story in the history of Indian space science, here is the ‘spy case’ in a nutshell: Soon after India’s first successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in October 1994, the Kerala police arrested two Isro scientists and five others including two Maldivian women. The scientists were accused of passing on rocket secrets to Pakistan through the Maldivian women who were charged with espionage.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB), which investigated the case, was accused of torturing the accused to extract false confessions. The CBI took over the investigation and found the case to be false. The CBI report recommended action against officers of the IB and the Kerala police. A chief judicial magistrate accepted the CBI report in 1996 and, two years later, the Supreme Court upheld it. In September 2018, the court ordered compensation for Nambi and an inquiry by retired Justice D K Jain into the circumstances leading to the case.
The latest: Accepting the Jain committee report, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar last Thursday termed the matter “serious” and ordered a “deeper investigation” by the CBI into the role of the officers in implicating the scientist in the false case. This will probably set a precedent for punitive action against investigators who work to prove a preconceived conspiracy theory than try to find the truth.
A month before the Supreme Court ordered the judicial probe into the ‘spy case’ conspiracy, the Law Commission had submitted to the Union government a report titled ‘Wrongful prosecution (miscarriage of justice): Legal remedies’. “An effective response from the state to the victims of miscarriage of justice resulting from wrongful prosecutions is lacking in the criminal justice system in the country as it stands today,” said commission chairman B S Chauhan in the covering letter to law minister Ravishankar Prasad.
The commission’s words apply to Nambi’s case perfectly: “A person wrongfully prosecuted though acquitted and released from jail is free to go back to his life; but is it actually possible for him to go back to the same life – the life before he was subjected to the ordeal of wrongful prosecution? For a person who has been accused of a crime, who underwent criminal proceeding (often long drawn), whose name and reputation has been affected, for being accused and/or convicted of a crime he did not commit, who has spent time in prison for a crime he did not commit, there still lies an uphill battle even after acquittal.”
The commission recommended that the state compensate for the social stigma, the mental, emotional and physical harassment, and for the expense incurred by the innocent victims of miscarriage of justice. It, however, did not recommend action against investigators who implicate the accused. Last week’s Supreme Court order points to the necessity of such punitive action.
So far, overzealous cops have taken refuge under the clauses of ‘reasonable doubt’ and ‘acting in good faith’. The ‘Isro spy case’ was an example of how investigators led more by ambition and avarice than a sense of justice can trample upon reputations and harm the nation’s scientific progress. Now, with perpetrators of the injustice that robbed a scientist of his professional pinnacle and personal peace in the dock, India’s justice delivery system has taken a step towards ensuring comeuppance for conspirators within.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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