Nambi Narayanan case
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The article is written by Harmanpreet Kaur, from Amity University, Kolkata. The article gives an insight into the case of Nambi Narayanan, a spying scandal that took place in the year 1994, and will state the recent developments in the case.


There have been various spying scandals reported in India and many others in the neighboring and international states. The legal term for the word spying is referred to as ‘Espionage’. Espionage is pertained to be the act or practice of secretly securing information of a military-political nature, that a particular nation has the right to hold as a secret, legally termed as ‘state secrets’. It can imply examination and analysis of diplomatic reports, publications, etc. It is a clandestine activity carried out by an individual under the status of ‘secret identity on behalf of any other nation-state.

In India, the law governing espionage is the ‘Official Secrets Act, 1923’, which states that if any individual, organization, and any other establishment gets involved in helping the enemy state, and reveals any kind of secret information to that particular nation-state, will be convicted and condemned, in accordance with the various provisions of the act. There have been various instances, wherein various individuals were prosecuted for violating the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923. In June 2002, a Kashmir journalist Gilani was apprehended, for violating the provisions of OSA, by providing secret information of India to Pakistan. 

One such case was that of Nambi Narayanan, spying misconduct, which will be dealt with in brief in the article below.

Nambi Narayanan Case: an overview

Nambi Narayanan

Nambi Narayanan is an Indian aerospace engineer and scientist, working as in-charge of the cryogenics division at the Indian Satellite of Research Organization(ISRO). He and his colleagues were planning to develop rocket systems, so that the rockets can be used from the US and France, for their consignments. Consequently, he became one of the prime figures of the project, to develop homegrown Indian rockets, which could be beneficial and of great importance for India.

The things in his life turned upside down when in November 1994 he was arrested on espionage and spying charges.

Facts of the Case

It all started in the year 1994 when two Maldivian nationals were arrested by the police officials of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and after a vigilant and methodical investigation by the Kerala Police and Investigation Bureau officials. A case was registered against the two natives of Maldives, under Section 3 and Section 4 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 alleging that the culprits were involved in the leaking of the official documents and secrets of Indian Satellite of Research Organization(ISRO), and obtaining secret rocket designs and selling them to Pakistan. 

The case was referred to the Special Investigation Team by the Kerala Police officials, and it was thus conferred by the officials that the ISRO scientists were answerable for the misconduct of spying, which leads to the arrest of S. Nambi Narayanan, the director of the cryogenic project at ISRO and two of his other confederates.

Later in 1996, on the consequential request of the Government of Kerala and abiding by the decision of the Government of India, the case was assigned to the Crime Bureau of Investigation, for the acceptable investigation, with the bona fide intention. The CBI after its inquiry in the matter further came to the conclusion that the evidence submitted to the Magistrate by the police officials under Section 173(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, was not proved and the allegations of corruption and espionage against the ISRO scientists were held erroneous and consequentially, the accused were discharged.

Findings of the court of law

Judgment by the Kerala High Court 

The case was then referred to the Kerala High Court by the Government of Kerala, for being unsatisfied by the investigation of the Crime Bureau of Investigation, and further for allowing them to conduct an investigation in the case by the State police. The notification was challenged by the Appellant and upheld by the Kerala High Court. The Kerala High Court thus passed the following orders in the relevant case.

  1. The court issued permission to conduct re-investigation by the state police officials in the case, after quashing the investigation of the CBI. The appellants challenged the decision of the issue of re-investigation of the High Court of Kerala, by filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against its order under Article 136 of the Constitution of India.
  2. The accused were executed on the grounds that the reports submitted by the Police officials were improper and the evidence was substantiated.
  3. The court failed to take any action against the erring law enforcement officials of the state, because:
    • After the government’s examination of the case in the context of the police officials with respect to the observations of the CBI.
    • There was no appropriate direction conferred by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, who had accepted the reports from the police officials.
    • There was no direction by the apex court to take any action against the investigation authorities.
  4. The allegations and charges of mental agony and physical torture were a substantial question of fact, so the court abstained from giving the judgment in this context.

The appellant being aggrieved by the decision of the Kerala High Court, approached the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) for the grant of compensation, as the accused has suffered mental agony and physical torture. The NHRC granted compensation of 10 lakhs to the accused, because of the infringement of the basic human rights of the accused. The Kerala high court came to a conclusion of granting interim compensation of 10lakhs to the accused.

The accused were aggrieved by the decision of the Kerala High Court and filed a special leave petition under Section-136 of the constitution of India in the Supreme court of India.

Role of CBI in the ISRO Spy case

The case, when referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, was conducted with the bona fide intention and led to the establishment of the relevant information, and the false claims of the Police officials. The CBI thus contended that to the reports submitted by the police officials, Investigation bureau officials stating that:

  • The report submitted by the police officials to the Magistrate, wherein the accused had given every information associated with the place of meetings for the aim of espionage activities, the likelihood of passing of the secret drawings and technologies to the enemy nation-states, and therefore the receipt of cash as a consideration, could not be properly proved and substantiated. As rightfully defined under Section 173 of CrPC it is stated that the reports by the police shall only be submitted after full inquiry and with adequate evidence.
  • The investigation conducted by the Special Investigation Team was criticized on the premise that the pinnacle of the team Siby Mathew failed to take adequate steps with reference to the interrogations by the Kerala police and left the whole inquiry to be conducted by the Investigation Bureau, surrendering his duties prescribed by the state. They were held for their unprofessional behavior in the indiscriminate arrest of the two respected and designated ISRO scientists, who played a prime role in the successful launching of the satellites in space. The indiscriminate arrest of the signatories caused mental and physical torture and harassment to them.
  • When the interrogation was conducted by the CBI, it absolutely was found that the accused were subjected to custodial torture by the police officials, and were forced to simply accept their involvement in espionage activities.
  • The investigation further revealed that the documents were not missing from ISRO, subsequently, 254 of the missing documents that were found to be missing were random in nature, and did not pertain to a particular system of the claims.
  • There were no incriminating documents of money being Indian or foreign were recovered from the accused persons. The police officials have conducted their investigation arbitrarily and have also infringed their respective rights and duties.

Judgment of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court after reviewing both the oral and written documents, submitted by the CBI came to the conclusion that the allegations of corruption and espionage against the accused were not proved and were held to be fallacious and erroneous and so appellants should be acquitted. 

  1. Violation of Article 21: The court also affirmed that the investigation conducted by the state police was malicious and caused tremendous harassment and anguished to the appellants, and also the custodial torture, which was administered by the State police officials was arbitrary in nature leading to the infringement of basic human rights of the individuals. The court correctly pointed out that this inhumane behavior by the state led to the infringement of the violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Hence it is stated that if there is a violation of the basic fundamental rights of the individuals, the court should direct and order the state to grant interim compensation to the sufferer. 
  2. Infringement of Human Rights: The Court had also expressed aggravation on ‘custodial torture’ while referring to the case of D.K.Basu v. State of West Bengal, in which the court stated that even though the term ’torture’ has not been defined in the constitution and in other penal codes, it should be treated as a violation of basic human rights. The Supreme Court in context to the custodial torture stated that ‘custodial torture’ is a naked violation of human dignity and degradation which destroys, to a very large extent, the individual personality. It is a calculated assault on human dignity and whenever human dignity is wounded, civilization takes a step backward — the flag of humanity must on each such occasion fly half-mast. Thus the court held that the custodial torture has resulted in the infringement of basic human rights, Article 21, Article 22 of the Constitution.
  3. Infringement of Right to Reputation: These false accusations on the appellants also led to questioning their reputation, which is a fundamental element of the person’s liberty and is also given protection under the constitution of India. The Right to Reputation is the important fundamental right of an individual and this has also been stated as an inseparable slant to the individual’s life and liberty in the case of Kiran Bedi v. Committee of Inquiry and another. So this also led to the infringement of the reputation of the appellant under Article 21 and Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
  4. Arbitrary exercise of the power of the Police officials: The court had also condemned the exercise of the use of the force by the police officials on the appellants and the filing and registering of the false claims against the accused, which had further led to the questioning of the default in the criminal justice system.

Thus the court awarded an interim compensation of Rs.50 lakhs to the appellants on the basis of their violation of basic fundamental rights and ordered the state to further compensate in the time period of eight weeks.

Lapses in the Judgment

When the case was referred to the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court, there were few instances that the court did not look upon i.e.:

  • The Kerala High court should not have permitted the request of the respondents for the re-investigation of the case by the state police officials and the Investigation Bureau when the case was already referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. This actually could have questioned the powers and duties of the CBI under the various penal codes, and also that the supreme authority failed to investigate the matter thoroughly.
  • The Kerala High court did not mention that there was an infringement of the basic human and fundamental rights of the accused and termed the entire matter as a substantial question of fact.
  • The Supreme court should have mentioned the provisions of the Criminal procedure code and the Indian Evidence Act that were violated during the investigation conducted by the law enforcement officers i.e., Section 163, which bars the police officer from using any kind of inducement, threat, or promise, as has also been mentioned under Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. 

Recent developments in the case

The illegal arrest of S Nambi Narayanan, and accusing him of the false claims that were registered against him stating his involvement in the espionage activities and the charges of corruption sabotaged his reputation and vandalized his career. 

The false case was registered against Nambi by the state police officials through the investigation of the Special Investigation Team and the Investigation Bureau, raising questions on the unjust powers of the police and the lack of just and proper mechanism of an investigation by the supreme authorities.

Consequently, the Supreme Court, complying with the Jain Committee report has directed and ordered the CBI to probe into the matter of the ISRO espionage case of 1994. The CBI has been directed to investigate the matter thoroughly on the illegal arrest of Nambi, the role of the police officials, and take them into custody, who have caused mental agony and physical torture. The decision of the apex court has been hailed by Nambi and had stated that false accusations were a conspiracy theory against him that should be brought to light. 


The main purpose of the criminal justice system is the prevention of a crime. Therefore, in order to prevent the commission of a crime, the state police officials and Magistrates have been given the duty to maintain law and order in the country and to take action against any individual if he is found guilty and has been given the power to arrest the individuals, in case of breach of public tranquility or if he is acting against the sovereignty and integrity of India. But, there have been cases where there are false accusations and registrations of cases by the police officials, causing mental agony, harassment, and questioning the reputation of innocent individuals. The registration of the false case destroyed the career of Nambi Narayanan, vandalizing his reputation. 

The court should take steps against the officials registering false cases and illegal arrests, and so an internal committee should be formed, which should be given an authority to keep a check on the governance of the police officials and to instill in them the belief to conduct the proceedings with fair and impartial means.


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