OUT OF SUSPICION ORBIT
2012 Eighteen years after being named a key accused in the sensational Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) espionage case, former director of Advanced Technology and Planning of India’s space institute, S. Nambinarayanan, 72, feels it was an attempt by the Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA) to derail India’s space programme, especially to stall acquisition of sophisticated cryogenic engine technology from Russia. He quotes Russia In Space: A Failed Frontier? (Springer, 2011), a book by former BBC space writer Brian Harvey, to support his view. According to Harvey, India’s attempts at buying the technology ignoring US opposition was the reason behind the cooked-up spy case. US opposition had by then extended to sanctions against ISRO and Glavkosmos, the Russian space firm supplying the technology. After Russia backed out, it took years for ISRO to develop it indigenously. “The scandal set us back by decades,” says the scientist.
All accused scientists barring Nambinarayanan were exonerated by CBI in 1998. The accused also included Bangalore businessmen S.K. Sharma and Chandrasekhar, who allegedly looked after business aspects of the deal, besides Mariam Rasheeda and Sowzia Hassan, two Maldivian women accused of setting up honey traps. Nambinarayanan was finally given a reprieve on September 7, two days before ISRO’S PSLV launch. A Kerala High Court division bench upheld a National Human Rights Commission ( NHRC) directive to the state government to pay Rs 10 lakh as interim compensation to the scientist. NHRC issued the order in 2001, after he filed a case against the state government in 1999. As ISRO’S launch was telecast live, Nambinarayanan sat at home with his TV set switched off. “I’m proud, but the agony and shame I suffered for 18 years has sapped me,” he says. “If this is the way India treats its scientists, how can one be excited?” he asks.
INDIATODAY, SEPTEMBER 24,2012