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Ex-ISRO scientist’s reputation was dented due to malafide prosecution: Supreme Court


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New Delhi: Former ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan has faced a dent in his reputation in the espionage case due to “malafide prosecution” and Kerala government cannot evade “vicarious liability” to grant him compensation, the Supreme Court said today.

The apex court also said the state government may be asked to re-investigate the role of the then SIT officers who had framed the former scientist.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said it could direct the recovery of the compensation either from the officers who were involved in the probe or the state government which cannot evade vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person.

“It is not the case that his (Naryanan) reputation was not dented. We can direct that his reputation be restored and for the loss of reputation we can give the compensation. There is direct judgement to this effect and direct recovery from those officers who were involved in the investigation of the case,” the bench said.

The bench said there has to be a formulation in the law so that compensation can be quantified for the loss of reputation.

It said it could “also direct for criminal investigation by the state against the officers involved for malafide prosecution of the petitioner (Naryanan).”

“Officers involved in the investigation have to pay the proportionally from their pocket. The matter ends there. That is their liability and the only question remains is how much and when”, it said.

When senior advocate V Giri pointed out that the officers involved in the investigation of the case would resist payment of compensation, the bench shot back saying “No, they can’t. There is a judgement of this court in this regard on the issue of malafide prosecution. Once it is settled that it is malafide prosecution, then it is their liability”.

The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue tomorrow.

76-year-old Nambi Narayanan, while functioning as a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation, was arrested on November 30, 1994, alleging espionage. Later, Narayanan had told the court that the entire probe in the ISRO case was found to be “malicious” and the CBI had filed a closure report which was accepted by the magistrate.

Yesterday, the top court had said it may ask the Kerala government to re-investigate the role of the then SIT officers who had framed former scientist in the case, but had ruled out the possibility of any departmental action against them due to the passage of time.

The apex court was hearing the plea of the Narayanan who sought action against former DGP Siby Mathews and others who were part of the Special Investigation Team in Kerala in 1994, which had probed the case in which he was framed.

Kerala government had said that on investigation, it has found no role could be attributed to the police officers for false implication.

Narayanan had also said that for 12 years, the state government refused to take any action and they are now claiming that nothing was found.

The apex court, however, said it may enhance the compensation for Narayanan after granting him liberty to pursue the civil suit of Rs one crore filed by him earlier.

The court had on May 3 said it may consider granting Rs 25 lakh as compensation to the former scientist. Narayanan has so far received Rs 10 lakh as compensation.

The CBI counsel had also said the agency had found the case to be fake and filed the closure report which has already been accepted by the court.

The top court had asked the probe agency, whether it had conducted any investigation to find out and fix the responsibility of the errant officer. The CBI had replied in negative.

The former ISRO scientist had filed an appeal against the judgement of division bench of the Kerala High Court which had said no action needed to be taken against the former DGP and two retired Superintendents of Police, K K Joshua and S Vijayan, who were held allegedly responsible by the CBI for his illegal arrest.