S. Nambi Narayanan
|Education||Princeton University (MSE)|
Thiagarajar College of Engineering
S. Nambi Narayanan (born 12 December 1941) is an Indian scientist and an aerospace engineer. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award by the Government of India, in 2019. The scientist was instrumental in developing the Vikas engine that would be used for the first PSLV that India launched. As a senior official at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he was in-charge of the cryogenics division. In 1994, he was falsely charged with espionage and arrested. The charges against him were dismissed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April 1996, and the Supreme Court of India declared him not guilty in 1998.
In 2018, the Supreme Court, through the bench of Dipak Misra, awarded Narayanan a compensation of ₹ 5,000,000 (roughly US$70,000), to be recovered from the Government of Kerala within eight weeks. However the Government of Kerala decided to give him ₹ 1.3 crore (₹ 13,000,000; roughly US$183,000). The apex court also constituted a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge D. K. Jain to inquire into the role of officials of the Kerala police in the arrest of Narayanan.
S. Nambi Narayanan was born into a middle-class Tamil Brahmin family on 12 December 1941 in Nagercoil, Travancore, which is in present-day Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu, where he also completed his schooling at DVD Higher Secondary School. His family traces its roots to Tirukurungudi village in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu. He completed his early schooling with another ace scientist of ISRO Y. S. Rajan.
Narayanan first met Vikram Sarabhai, the then Chairman of ISRO, in 1966 at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, while he worked as a payload integrator with another eminent scientist Y. S. Rajan there. Also chairman of the Space Science and technology Centre (SSTC) at the time, Sarabhai only recruited highly qualified professionals. In pursuit, Narayanan enrolled at the College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram for his MTech degree. Upon learning this, Sarabhai offered him leave for higher education if he made it to any of the Ivy League universities. Subsequently, Narayanan earned a NASA fellowship and was accepted into Princeton University in 1969. He completed his master's program there in chemical rocket propulsion under professor Luigi Crocco in a record ten months. Despite being offered a job in the US, Narayanan returned to India with expertise in liquid propulsion at a time when Indian rocketry was still solely dependent on solid propellants.
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, and received encouragement from the then ISRO chairman Satish Dhawan, and his successor U. R. Rao. Narayanan developed liquid propellant motors, first building a successful 600 kilograms (1,300 lb) thrust engine in the mid-1970s and thereafter moving on to bigger engines.
In 1992, India signed an agreement with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic fuel-based engines and procurement of two such engines for ₹ 235 crore. However, it did not materialize after the US president George H. W. Bush wrote to Russia, raising objections against the transfer of technology and even threatening to blacklist the country from the select-five club. Russia, under Boris Yeltsin, succumbed to the pressure and denied the technology to India. To bypass this monopoly, India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines, alongside two mockups for a total of US$9 million, after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology. ISRO had already reached a consensus with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines. But this failed to materialize due to the spy scandal of 1994.
After working for nearly two decades, with French assistance, Narayanan's 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 Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).
In 1994, Narayanan was 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. Narayanan was among two scientists (the other being D. Sasikumaran) that were accused of selling the 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.
Narayanan was arrested and spent 50 days in jail. He claims that officials from the Intelligence Bureau, who were the ones to interrogate 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 Systems Centre (LPSC). When he refused to comply, he was tortured until he collapsed and was hospitalised. 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 CBI. They were also dismissed by the Supreme Court 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.
In 2001, the NHRC ordered the government of Kerala to pay him a compensation of ₹ 1 crore. 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 the government of Kerala had dropped charges against the police officials who were alleged to have falsely implicated 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, was later appointed Chief Information Commissioner in Kerala (2011 - 2016).. Kerala government settled the case filed against it by Narayanan by agreeing to a payment of ₹1.3 crore (US$180,000). As a result of this settlement Mr Narayanan agreed to withdraw his case in the Kerala High Court against the Kerala government. 
Demand for Justice
On 14 September 2018, the Supreme Court 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 began his legal battles in various forums for his honour and justice. In addition to this, the government of Kerala has decided to give him Rs 1.3 crore as compensation.
On 26 January 2019, he was conferred with the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India.
Books and popular culture
- Ormakalude Bhramanapadham: An Autobiography by Nambi Narayanan, Prajesh Sen; Thrissur Current Books, 2017.
- Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case by Nambi Narayanan, Arun Ram; Bloomsbury India, 2018.
In popular culture
In October 2018, a biographical film titled Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, written and co-directed by R. Madhavan, was announced. The teaser of the film was released on 1 April 2021 and the film is scheduled to be released in summer-2021.
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- Scroll Staff. "'Rocketry – The Nambi Effect' teaser: Madhavan presents scientist Nambi Narayanan's story". Scroll.in.
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- ThiruvananthapuramDecember 27, Press Trust of India; December 27, 2019UPDATED; Ist, 2019 13:43. "Isro scientist Nambi Narayanan implicated in fake spy case to get Rs 1.3 crore from Kerala govt". India Today. Retrieved 27 December 2019.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
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- Mehta, Nikita (10 March 2014). "How Isro got an indigenous cryogenic engine". Livemint. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
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- A shattered man now sits cool and detached. The Hindu, 8 September 2012.
- "Kerala drops charges against police officials in ISRO espionage case". Thehindu.com. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- "I was the one who was victimised in ISRO espionage case: Former Kerala DGP Siby Mathews". The News Minute. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
- "Nambi Narayanan gets ₹1.3 cr. additional compensation". The Hindu. Archived from the original on
|archive-date=(help). Retrieved 17 April 2021.
- "ISRO Spy Case". The New Indian Express. 15 April 2021. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
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- Rajagopal, Krishnadas (14 September 2018). "ISRO spy case victim wants justice". The Hindu.
- "R. Madhavan: 95 per cent of Indians don't know about Nambi Narayanan, which I think is a crime". 1 November 2018.
- "Teaser of R Madhavan's 'Rocketry – The Nambi Effect' gets 10 million views in 24 hours!". IMDb.