Nambi Narayanan

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S. Nambi Narayanan
Nambi Narayanan.jpg
Born Trivandrum, India
Nationality Indian
Occupation ISRO Scientist

S. Nambi Narayanan is an Indian scientist. As a senior official at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he was in-charge of the cryogenics division.[1] In 1994, he was falsely charged with espionage and arrested. The charges against him were dismissed by the CBI in 1996, and the Supreme Court declared him not guilty in 1998.

In 2018, the Supreme Court through the bench of Dipak Misra awarded a compensation of 50 lakhs to Nambi Narayan, to be recovered from the state government within eight weeks and The apex court also constituted a committee headed by retired SC judge D K Jain to inquire into the role of Kerala police officials in the arrest of Narayanan.[2]

Early life[edit]

Narayanan hails from a middle-class Brahmin family with roots in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu.[3]


Narayanan introduced the liquid fuel rocket technology in India in the early 1970s, when A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s team was working on solid motors. He foresaw the need for liquid fuelled engines for ISRO’s future civilian space programmes. He was encouraged by the then ISRO chairman Satish Dhawan, and his successor U.R. Rao. Narayanan developed liquid propellant motors, first building the successful 600-kg thrust engine in the mid-1970s and thereafter moving on to bigger engines.

In 1992, India had signed an agreement with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels. The agreement was signed for Rs 235 crore, when the US and France were offering the same technology for Rs 950 crore and Rs 650 crore respectively due to currency rate. Documents show that US president George H. W. Bush wrote to Russia, raising objections against this agreement and even threatening to blacklist the country from the select-five club. Russia, under Boris Yeltsin, succumbed to the pressure and denied cryogenic technology to India. To bypass this monopoly, India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology. ISRO had already reached a consensus with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited (Keltch) which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines. But this did not happen as the spy scandal surfaced in late 1994.[4]

After working for nearly two decades, with French assistance, his team developed the Vikas engine used by several ISRO rockets including the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV) that took Chandrayaan-1 to the moon in 2008. The Vikas engine is used in the second stage of PSLV and as the second and the four strap-on stages of Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).[5]

Espionage charges[edit]

In 1994, Narayanan was falsely charged with leaking vital defence secrets to two alleged Maldivian intelligence officers, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan. Defense officials said the secrets pertained to highly confidential "flight test data" from experiments with rocket and satellite launches. Nambi Narayanan was among two scientists (the other being D Sasikumaran) that were accused of selling ISRO secrets for millions. However, his house seemed nothing out of the ordinary and did not show signs of the corrupt gains he was accused of.[6]

Narayanan was arrested and spent 50 days in jail. He says that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials who interrogated him wanted him to make false accusations against the top brass of ISRO. He alleges that two IB officials had asked him to implicate A.E.Muthunayagam, his boss and then Director of the Liquid Propulsion System Centre (LPSC). When he refused to comply, he was tortured until he collapsed and was hospitalised.[7] He says his main complaint against ISRO is that it did not support him. Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, who was ISRO chairman at the time stated that ISRO could not interfere in a legal matter.

In May 1996, the charges were dismissed as phony by the Central Bureau of Investigation. They were also dismissed by the Supreme Court of India in April 1998. In September 1999, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) passed strictures against the government of Kerala for having damaged Narayanan’s distinguished career in space research along with the physical and mental torture to which he and his family were subjected. After the dismissal of charges against them, the two scientists, Sasikumar and Narayanan were transferred out of Thiruvananthapuram and were given desk jobs.[8]

In 2001, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered the Kerala State Government to pay him a compensation of 1 crore (10 million).[9] He retired in 2001. The Kerala High Court ordered a compensation amount of Rs 10 lakhs to be paid to Nambi Narayanan based on an appeal from NHRC India in September 2012.

On 3 October 2012, The Hindu Reported that Kerala Government has dropped charges against police officials who were alleged to have falsely implicated Nambi Narayanan in the espionage case on the grounds that over 15 years had passed since the case was initiated. The top officer involved in the case, Siby Mathews is currently the Chief Information Commissioner in Kerala.[10]

On 8 November 2012 it is reported that Kerala Government still not complied Kerala High Court order to pay compensation Rs 10 lakhs.

Demand for Justice[edit]

On 7 November 2013, Narayanan was made media discussion that he is seeking justice in this case and want to expose who were behind this conspiracy and said that this case will 'discourage' the youth.[11][12]

On 14 September 2018, The Supreme Court on Friday appointed a three-member panel headed by its former judge to probe the "harrowing" arrest and alleged torture of former space scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 'ISRO spy scandal' that turned out to be fake.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also awarded Mr. Narayanan Rs. 50 lakh in compensation for the "mental cruelty" he suffered all these years. The reprieve comes almost a quarter of century after Mr. Narayanan, a top scientist in the ISRO before his arrest and detention, began his legal battles in various forums for his honour and justice.[13]


His autobiography titled Ormakalude Bhramanapatham[14] (ഓർമകളുടെ ഭ്രമണപഥം) was released on 23 October 2017. the book deals with the ISRO espionage case in which Nambi Narayanan, along with five others, were subjected to repeated third degree and sustained interrogation by the Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau in the early 1990s. The other suspects in the case included ISRO scientist D. Sasikumaran, Russian space agency official K. Chandrasekhar, and ISRO’s contractor S.K. Sharma and two Maldivian women.


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