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Did not interrogate Nambi Narayanan: RB Sreekumar

The retired cop has been accused of torturing a former ISRO scientist and other accused during interrogation in a case of alleged espionage

Sabrangindia 29 Nov 2021

ISRO
Image Courtesy:livelaw.in

RB Sreekumar, a retired police officer who has held many high-ranking positions such as Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP), has submitted before the Supreme Court that claims of torture made by Nambi Narayanan, a key accused in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) espionage case of 1994, are misplaced.

The matter pertains to a case where certain confidential documents pertaining to India’s space programme were allegedly made available to foreign countries by two scientists and four others, including two Maldivian women. Nambi Narayanan, who was the director of the cryogenic project at ISRO at the time, was arrested along with the then ISRO Deputy Director D Sashikumaran by the Kerala Police. At the time of the incident, Sreekumar was posted as the Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Thiruvananthapuram. Narayanan had accused Sreekumar of torturing him during interrogation.

However, in his submission to the SC, Sreekumar refuted this claim by recounting events as they transpired. “I do not remember the exact date, but I believe sometime in late October of 1994, the IB was requested to support the Kerala Police to conduct the interrogation and since I was posted in Kerala IB unit at the time, I was one of the officers of the IB who was included in the team of IB officers detailed for interrogation.” He further says, “I was given the task of interrogating D. Sashikumaran, a scientist from ISRO. I conducted the interrogation along with the Kerala Police officers in a very congenial atmosphere and the entire interrogation was audio-video recorded, and the High Court of Kerala has indeed viewed the same and found that the interrogation was conducted in a congenial atmosphere.”

On the subject of interrogating Nambi Narayanan, Sreekumar submitted, “Within two days of arrest of Nambi Narayanan, the case was handed over to the CBI, and the IB had no role to play in the case thereafter. In other words, Nambi Narayanan was in the custody of Kerala Police for two days. Hence all his claims of torture at the hands of IB officials is completely misplaced.”

He listed the dates of arrest of Sashikumaran and Narayanan as per official records as November 21 and November 30, 1994 respectively.

Sreekumar claims that he is being made a “scapegoat”. He said, “I have already faced disciplinary proceedings as per the recommendations of the CBI and after a thorough inquiry I have been fully exonerated as the charges were not proved.” He was exonerated as per an order dated January 24, 2005, and therefore calls the current FIR (that was filed on May 1, 2021) a double jeopardy. He further submits that the Justice DK Jain Committee did not speak to him. He also states, “All instructions were being given at the highest level and to assume that I was in a position to interrogate anyone at my discretion is completely incorrect and misplaced. The assertion that I had a previous grouse against him and I had threatened him earlier is without any basis. In any case, arresting him was not my decision.” Sreekumar says, “This is a case which is being developed now as an afterthought to sensationalise the case.”

Sreekumar has been booked under the following charges in the present FIR:

·        120 B (criminal conspiracy)

·        167 (Public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury)

·        195 (Giving or fabricating false evidence)

·        218 (Public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfei­ture)

·        323 (Voluntarily causing hurt)

·        330 (Voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession, or to compel restoration of property)

·        348 (Wrongful confinement to extort confession, or compel resto­ration of property

·        365 (Kidnapping)

·        477 A (Falsification of accounts)

·        506 (Criminal intimidation)

All sections other than 365 are bailable and for 195 a sanction has to be obtained. The present proceedings are for anticipatory bail. Sreekumar also submitted that being of an advanced age he is not a flight risk and that he will be available for investigation at any time to the CBI and that custodial interrogation was not required in a case like this.

It is noteworthy that the Gujarat High Court, on two occasions (July 20 and July 28, 2021), ordered the CBI to not arrest the 74-year-old former Director General of Police till July 29, 2021, until he had obtained anticipatory bail from the Kerala court.

Then on July 29, 2021, Justice K. Haripal of the Kerala High Court granted interim protection to former Gujarat DGP R B Sreekumar from arrest. Justice Haripal ordered that Sreekumar shall not be arrested till August 2, when the matter was posted for hearing before Justice Ashok Menon. He also tagged his plea with two other anticipatory bail applications pertaining to the same case.

At that time, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S.V. Raju, appearing for the CBI, argued before the Kerala High Court that CBI strongly believed that Pakistan was involved in the case and that it was done to derail ISRO's programme to develop a cryogenic engine. Therefore, bail should not be granted to Sreekumar and his co-accused. However, Sreekumar’s counsel argued that he wasn’t even present during Nambi Narayanan’s interrogation, and that Narayanan had already become an accused in the espionage case before Sreekumar became privy to the matter. The lawyer further apprised the court that the investigation was handled by a special investigation team and that Sreekumar was not part of the SIT and only assisted them on the request of the Kerala Police. 

On August 13, the Kerala High Court granted anticipatory bail to all accused persons/petitioners in the case. These include - RB Sreekumar, two former Kerala Police officers S. Vijayan and Thampi S. Durga, and a retired IB official PS Jayaprakash.

The Kerala High Court, through its August 13 order, has ruled that 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 Cryogenic Engine.”

Justice Ashok Menon observed that unless there are specific materials regarding their involvement, prima facie, it cannot be said that they were acting against the interest of the country. He said that the concerns of the Kerala Police at that stage cannot be said to be without any basis, but ultimately it was found that “there is nothing in the accusation made against the offices and the investigation was dropped. The accused in the present crime should not be made to face a similar situation of being forced to undergo the ignominy of being incarcerated in the prison for interrogation at this old age after their retirement for an incident that took place a quarter of a century ago.”

The Bench further noted that there was no indication or material, apart from the rhetoric that a foreign power has a hand in persuading the petitioners. Therefore, it was ruled that the petitioners were entitled to the remedy of anticipatory bail. Justice Menon also said that the investigation was triggered by the apprehension of the Maldivian ladies who were overstaying their Visa.

The court also noted that during the investigation, the officers in the lower rank (such as some of the petitioners) found certain suspicious circumstances, as a result of which, they registered the crime and reported the matter to the higher authorities. Therefore, the Court accepted that the concerns of the petitioners/Kerala Police at that stage cannot be said to be “without any basis.”

The CBI then moved Supreme Court against the grant of Anticipatory Bail to Sreekumar. On Monday November 22, the Supreme Court had issued notice in connection with this and Sreekumar was asked to respond by November 29, 2021, which he did. His entire response may be read here:

Related:

SC issues notice in RB Sreekumar espionage case
ISRO espionage case: Kerala HC grants protection from arrest to R.B Sreekumar
ISRO espionage case: Kerala HC grants pre-arrest bail to former Gujarat DGP RB Sreekumar, three others

Did not interrogate Nambi Narayanan: RB Sreekumar

The retired cop has been accused of torturing a former ISRO scientist and other accused during interrogation in a case of alleged espionage

ISRO
Image Courtesy:livelaw.in

RB Sreekumar, a retired police officer who has held many high-ranking positions such as Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP), has submitted before the Supreme Court that claims of torture made by Nambi Narayanan, a key accused in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) espionage case of 1994, are misplaced.

The matter pertains to a case where certain confidential documents pertaining to India’s space programme were allegedly made available to foreign countries by two scientists and four others, including two Maldivian women. Nambi Narayanan, who was the director of the cryogenic project at ISRO at the time, was arrested along with the then ISRO Deputy Director D Sashikumaran by the Kerala Police. At the time of the incident, Sreekumar was posted as the Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Thiruvananthapuram. Narayanan had accused Sreekumar of torturing him during interrogation.

However, in his submission to the SC, Sreekumar refuted this claim by recounting events as they transpired. “I do not remember the exact date, but I believe sometime in late October of 1994, the IB was requested to support the Kerala Police to conduct the interrogation and since I was posted in Kerala IB unit at the time, I was one of the officers of the IB who was included in the team of IB officers detailed for interrogation.” He further says, “I was given the task of interrogating D. Sashikumaran, a scientist from ISRO. I conducted the interrogation along with the Kerala Police officers in a very congenial atmosphere and the entire interrogation was audio-video recorded, and the High Court of Kerala has indeed viewed the same and found that the interrogation was conducted in a congenial atmosphere.”

On the subject of interrogating Nambi Narayanan, Sreekumar submitted, “Within two days of arrest of Nambi Narayanan, the case was handed over to the CBI, and the IB had no role to play in the case thereafter. In other words, Nambi Narayanan was in the custody of Kerala Police for two days. Hence all his claims of torture at the hands of IB officials is completely misplaced.”

He listed the dates of arrest of Sashikumaran and Narayanan as per official records as November 21 and November 30, 1994 respectively.

Sreekumar claims that he is being made a “scapegoat”. He said, “I have already faced disciplinary proceedings as per the recommendations of the CBI and after a thorough inquiry I have been fully exonerated as the charges were not proved.” He was exonerated as per an order dated January 24, 2005, and therefore calls the current FIR (that was filed on May 1, 2021) a double jeopardy. He further submits that the Justice DK Jain Committee did not speak to him. He also states, “All instructions were being given at the highest level and to assume that I was in a position to interrogate anyone at my discretion is completely incorrect and misplaced. The assertion that I had a previous grouse against him and I had threatened him earlier is without any basis. In any case, arresting him was not my decision.” Sreekumar says, “This is a case which is being developed now as an afterthought to sensationalise the case.”

Sreekumar has been booked under the following charges in the present FIR:

·        120 B (criminal conspiracy)

·        167 (Public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury)

·        195 (Giving or fabricating false evidence)

·        218 (Public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfei­ture)

·        323 (Voluntarily causing hurt)

·        330 (Voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession, or to compel restoration of property)

·        348 (Wrongful confinement to extort confession, or compel resto­ration of property

·        365 (Kidnapping)

·        477 A (Falsification of accounts)

·        506 (Criminal intimidation)

All sections other than 365 are bailable and for 195 a sanction has to be obtained. The present proceedings are for anticipatory bail. Sreekumar also submitted that being of an advanced age he is not a flight risk and that he will be available for investigation at any time to the CBI and that custodial interrogation was not required in a case like this.

It is noteworthy that the Gujarat High Court, on two occasions (July 20 and July 28, 2021), ordered the CBI to not arrest the 74-year-old former Director General of Police till July 29, 2021, until he had obtained anticipatory bail from the Kerala court.

Then on July 29, 2021, Justice K. Haripal of the Kerala High Court granted interim protection to former Gujarat DGP R B Sreekumar from arrest. Justice Haripal ordered that Sreekumar shall not be arrested till August 2, when the matter was posted for hearing before Justice Ashok Menon. He also tagged his plea with two other anticipatory bail applications pertaining to the same case.

At that time, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S.V. Raju, appearing for the CBI, argued before the Kerala High Court that CBI strongly believed that Pakistan was involved in the case and that it was done to derail ISRO's programme to develop a cryogenic engine. Therefore, bail should not be granted to Sreekumar and his co-accused. However, Sreekumar’s counsel argued that he wasn’t even present during Nambi Narayanan’s interrogation, and that Narayanan had already become an accused in the espionage case before Sreekumar became privy to the matter. The lawyer further apprised the court that the investigation was handled by a special investigation team and that Sreekumar was not part of the SIT and only assisted them on the request of the Kerala Police. 

On August 13, the Kerala High Court granted anticipatory bail to all accused persons/petitioners in the case. These include - RB Sreekumar, two former Kerala Police officers S. Vijayan and Thampi S. Durga, and a retired IB official PS Jayaprakash.

The Kerala High Court, through its August 13 order, has ruled that 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 Cryogenic Engine.”

Justice Ashok Menon observed that unless there are specific materials regarding their involvement, prima facie, it cannot be said that they were acting against the interest of the country. He said that the concerns of the Kerala Police at that stage cannot be said to be without any basis, but ultimately it was found that “there is nothing in the accusation made against the offices and the investigation was dropped. The accused in the present crime should not be made to face a similar situation of being forced to undergo the ignominy of being incarcerated in the prison for interrogation at this old age after their retirement for an incident that took place a quarter of a century ago.”

The Bench further noted that there was no indication or material, apart from the rhetoric that a foreign power has a hand in persuading the petitioners. Therefore, it was ruled that the petitioners were entitled to the remedy of anticipatory bail. Justice Menon also said that the investigation was triggered by the apprehension of the Maldivian ladies who were overstaying their Visa.

The court also noted that during the investigation, the officers in the lower rank (such as some of the petitioners) found certain suspicious circumstances, as a result of which, they registered the crime and reported the matter to the higher authorities. Therefore, the Court accepted that the concerns of the petitioners/Kerala Police at that stage cannot be said to be “without any basis.”

The CBI then moved Supreme Court against the grant of Anticipatory Bail to Sreekumar. On Monday November 22, the Supreme Court had issued notice in connection with this and Sreekumar was asked to respond by November 29, 2021, which he did. His entire response may be read here:

Related:

SC issues notice in RB Sreekumar espionage case
ISRO espionage case: Kerala HC grants protection from arrest to R.B Sreekumar
ISRO espionage case: Kerala HC grants pre-arrest bail to former Gujarat DGP RB Sreekumar, three others

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