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SC quashes Kerala HC order granting anticipatory bail to 4 in ISRO espionage case


New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday quashed the 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 ISRO espionage matter.

A bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar remanded the matter back to the high court and directed it to decide the issue within four weeks.

“All these appeals allowed. Impugned orders granting anticipatory bail passed by HC are quashed and set aside. All matters are remitted back to the HC to be decided afresh on it own merits. This court had not observed anything on merits for either of the parties.

“It is ultimately for the HC to pass orders. We request the HC to decide the anticipatory bail applications at the earliest preferably within four weeks from date of this order,” the bench said.

The top court directed the registry of the high court to notify bail applications before the bench concerned within one week from today.

“Till then by way of an interim arrangement, and without prejudice to rights, it is directed that for a period of five weeks and till the bail applications are finally decided by HC on remand, the respondents may not be arrested subject to cooperation in the investigation,” the apex court 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 has registered a 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.

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”. (PTI)

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