An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation

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An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Former ISRO scientist, S Nambi Narayanan, has spent over two decades fighting espionage chargesBCCL
  • The Kerala cabinet has approved ₹1.3 crore ($180,000) as compensation to for S Nambi Narayanan who was falsely accused of being a spy.
  • It took Narayanan over two decades to find justice after being tortured during his nearly 2-month detention in 1994.
  • This highest compensation that Narayanan has received after he petitioned the Supreme Court, which allotted ₹50 lakh in 2018.
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S Nambi Narayanan believes that he could’ve been the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He was instrumental in developing a mechanism which was used in 'Bahubali' rocket that launched Chandrayaan 2.

Yet, this man who was later awarded India’s highest civilian honour spent 25 years of his life fighting off allegations of being a spy.

An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Geetha Arunan daughter of scientist Nambi Narayanan weeps after screening documentary about the latterBCCL


Inadequate compensation

In 1994, Narayan was accused of stealing classified information and sharing it with Pakistan.

Though he was cleared of all allegations in by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Supreme Court in 1998 — only ₹1 lakh was offered in compensation.
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Disappointed with the treatment meted out to him, Narayanan approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to seek damages for the torture and mental agony that he had to endure during his 50-day incarceration.
An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan was accused of stealing launch secrets for Pakistan in 1994BCCL

The scandal had damaged his honour and thus began his journey to salvage his innocence by circling the courts.

To compensate him for the unlawful detention, the Kerala cabinet has now approved ₹1.3 crore ($180,000) as compensation. This is more than twice the amount that he was offered by the Supreme Court which in 2018.
An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan handing over 50 Lakhs (as directed by SC) to Nambi NarayananBCCL
The road to becoming ISRO chairman

Before the scandal broke, Narayanan was on the road to success at ISRO.

“I could have become the chairman of ISRO, without any doubt, but I am not sad. What is sad is that because of my dream job, I did not take care of my family,” he said in an interview with The Print.

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An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Nambi NarayananBCCL
During his stint at ISRO, Narayan is credited for developing India’s first liquid-propellant motor. The motor forms the backbone for the advanced cryogenic engine, which now powers India’s ‘ Bahubali’ rocket — the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV). It is the biggest rocket in India’s portfolio and is responsible for missions like Chandrayaan 2, India’s second mission to the Moon.

An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Chandryaan 2, India's second mission to the moon, takes off from the launch pan in SriharikotaISRO
He was also instrumental in developing the Vikas engine, which was later used in the first Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Ironically, it was being close to the cryogenic engine project that cast suspicions on him since it gave him access to its proprietary functioning.

An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan watching the news about the launch of GSLV Mk III from Sriharikota at his residence in Thiruvananthapuram BCCL

Accused of being a spy

Narayanan says that the authorities not only tortured him during his nearly 2-month arrest but also coerced false confessions out of him. At the time, the investigators stated that Narayanan had “been wanting to quit his job for the past two years,” according to India Today.

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At the time, he never realised that clearing his name would take another two decades. Even former President and rocket scientist APJ Abdul Kalam told him to give up, but Narayanan claims that he had made it his life’s mission to prove that it was not a spy.

An Indian rocket scientist lost 25 years falsely accused of being a spy— now he will get $180,000 as compensation
Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, who was framed in the notorious ISRO espionage scandal, speaking at an interactive session organised by Karayogam at TDM hall in Kochi BCCL

Here comes the Padma Bhushan

In 2018, justice finally came. The Supreme Court ruled he was “arrested unnecessarily, harassed and subjected to mental cruelty” finally clearing him of all charges. The verdict also directed that a committee should be set to look into the activities of the police officers behind the arrest.

In January 2019, Narayanan’s contributions to India’s space programme were finally recognised when the government awarded him the Padma Bhushan — the third-highest civilian award in the country.


The story of Narayanan’s thrilling journey will also be hitting the big screen soon. Rocketry: The Nambi Effect starring R Madhavan with feature the “extraordinary story of an unsung hero” that’s been in the works since 2017. Madhavan — the actor, producer and director of the movie — called the project his “biggest film ever”.

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See also:
ISRO outlook 2020: Indian private sector eyes $30 billion space launch pie

ISRO has its 'hands full' with 13 launches and the test of its new rocket before March

ISRO's all-weather ‘spy satellite’ will help India watch its borders closely


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