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ISRO espionage case: ‘Larger conspiracy’ at behest of foreign hands likely, CBI tells SC

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New Delhi, November 22

The CBI on Monday told the Supreme Court there may be a “larger conspiracy” involving foreign hands in the 1994 ISRO espionage case in which scientist Nambi Narayanan was allegedly framed by the Kerala police due to which the technology to develop the cryogenic engine was “hit” and the country’s space programme went back by at least one or two decades.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) made the submission even as the top court agreed to hear its plea challenging the Kerala High Court order granting anticipatory bail to four persons, including a former Director-General of Police (DGP), in connection with the ISRO espionage case.

The CBI’s petition came up for hearing before a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar which issued notice and posted it for hearing on November 29.

The high court on August 13 granted anticipatory bail to four accused—a former Gujarat DGP R B Sreekumar, two former Kerala police officers S Vijayan and Thampi S Durga Dutt, and a retired intelligence official P S Jayaprakash.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, appearing for the CBI, told the apex court that grant of anticipatory bail might derail the investigation in the case.

Raju said the CBI has found in its probe that some scientists were allegedly tortured and framed in the case due to which the development of the cryogenic engine was hit and this led to India’s space programme going back by almost one or two decades.

“We (CBI) are proceeding on the line that the technology for the cryogenic engine was deliberately tried to be stalled by arresting the scientists, who were involved in the development of the engine, as a result of which our space programme went back by at least one or two decades,” Raju told the bench.

He said this is a “very serious matter” and there may be a larger conspiracy at the behest of foreign hands which is being investigated.

“We are issuing notice,” the bench said.

As the bench said it was issuing notice on the plea, the ASG said, “May I request a stay of the order.”

“Where is the question of stay? We are issuing notice and taking it on November 29,” the bench observed.

The investigating agency had earlier alleged that there was a clear indication that the accused were part of a team, which had ulterior motives to torpedo the attempts of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for manufacturing the cryogenic engine.

While granting anticipatory bail to these persons, 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 are specific materials 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 persons for various alleged offences, including criminal conspiracy, in connection with the arrest and detention of Narayanan, a former ISRO scientist, 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 said 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, in its probe, had claimed that 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 Rs 50 lakh compensation for compelling Narayanan to undergo “immense humiliation”.

Terming the police action against the ex-scientist of the ISRO as a “psycho-pathological treatment”, the apex court had in September 2018 said that 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”. PTI

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