Former ISRO Scientist ordered for compensation of Rs 50 lakhs; committee constituted for taking action against erring police officers: SC

Life commands self-respect and dignity.

                                        -Dipak Misra, CJ

Supreme Court: The bench comprising of Dipak Misra, CJ and A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ. awarded a compensation of Rs 50 lakhs to the appellant while disposing of an appeal filed against the judgment of a Division Bench of Kerala High Court whereby the decision of the Single Judge quashing the order of State Government declining to take action against the erring police officers concerned was reversed.

In January 1994, a criminal case was registered against one Mariam Rasheeda, a Maldivian National under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Paragraph 7 of the Foreigners Order. While being interrogated by Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau, she made certain confessions which led to registration of another criminal case under Sections 3 and 4 of the Indian Official Secrets Acts, 1923 alleging that certain official secrets and documents of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had been leaked out by scientists of ISRO. In November 1994, investigation of both the cases was taken over by the Special Investigation Team headed by Respondent 1. Pursuant to this, the appellant –  erstwhile scientist at ISRO – was arrested along with other persons. In December 1994, the investigation was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. After the investigation, the CBI submitted a report before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ernakulam, under Section 173(2) CrPC stating that the evidence collected indicated that the allegations of espionage against the scientists at ISRO, including the appellant herein, were not proved and were found to be false. This report was accepted vide court’s order and all the accused were discharged. In June 1996, State of Kerala, being dissatisfied with the CBI report, issued a notification and decided to conduct re-investigation of the case by the State Police. Subsequently, the Supreme Court in K. Chandrasekhar v. State of Kerala, (1998) 5 SCC 223 quashed the notification of the State of Kerala for re-investigation holding that the said notification was against good governance and consequently, all accused were freed of charges. Another writ petition was filed before the High Court wherein a Single Judge quashed the order dated 29.06.2011 passed by the State of Kerala whereby the Kerala Government had decided not to take any disciplinary action against the members of the SIT (erring police officers) and consequently remitted the matter to the State of Kerala for reconsideration and passing further orders within three months. The said decision was reversed by a Division Bench vide the order impugned. It was urged by the appellant that the prosecution launched against him by the Kerala police was malicious on account of two reasons. Firstly, the said prosecution had a catastrophic effect on his service career as a leading and renowned scientist at ISRO, thereby smothering his career, lifespan, savings, honour, academic work as well as self-esteem and consequently resulting in total devastation of the peace of his entire family which is an ineffaceable individual loss. Secondly, the irreparable and irremediable loss and setback caused to the technological advancement in Space Research in India.

The Supreme Court, at the outset, observed that to say the least, the delineation by the Division Bench was too simplistic. It was stated that the entire prosecution initiated by the State police was malicious and caused tremendous harassment and immeasurable anguish to the appellant. It wasn’t a case where the accused was kept under custody and, eventually, after trial, he was found not guilty. The State police was dealing with an extremely sensitive case and after arresting the appellant and some others, the State, on its own, transferred the case to CBI. After comprehensive enquiry, the closure report was filed. An argument was advanced by the respondents that the fault should be found with CBI but not with the State police, for it had transferred the case to the CBI. The said submission was noted only to be rejected. The criminal law was set in motion without any basis. It was initiated on some kind of fancy or notion. The liberty and dignity of the appellant which are basic to his human rights were jeopardized as he was taken into custody and, eventually, despite all the glory of the past, he was compelled to face cynical abhorrence. According to the Court, such situation invited the public law remedy for grant of compensation for violation of the fundamental right envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution. In such a situation, it springs to life with immediacy. It is because life commands self-respect and dignity. The Court made references to D.K. Basu v. State of W.B., (1997) 1 SCC 416; Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P., (1994) 4 SCC 260; Kiran Bedi v. Committee of Enquiry, (1989) 1 SCC 494; etc. In the words of the Court, reputation of an individual is an insegregable facet of his right to life with dignity. In the final analysis, the Court held that it can be stated with certitude that the fundamental right of the appellant under Article 21 had been gravely affected. There could be no scintilla of doubt that the appellant, a successful scientist having national reputation, was compelled to undergo immense humiliation. The lackadaisical attitude of the State police to arrest anyone and put him in police custody made the appellant suffer the ignominy. The dignity of a person gets shocked when psycho-pathological treatment is meted out to him. A human being cries for justice when he feels that the insensible act has crucified his self-respect. Keeping in view the report of the CBI and the judgment in K. Chandrasekhar, The Court ordered the State to pay Rs 50 lakhs as compensation to the appellant. It was further held that the obtaining factual scenario calls for constitution of a Committee to find out ways and means to take appropriate steps against the erring officials. For the said purpose, the Court constituted a Committee which shall be headed by Justice D.K. Jain, a former Judge of Supreme Court. The Central Government and the State Government were directed to nominate one officer each so that apposite action could be taken. The Committee shall meet at Delhi and function from Delhi. However, it has option to hold meetings at appropriate place in the State of Kerala. The appeal was accordingly disposed of. [S. Nambi Narayanan v. Siby Mathews,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1500, decided on 14-09-2018]

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