S. Nambi Narayanan – A Hero Suffered because of Patriotism | ISRO Spy Scandal

S. Nambi Narayanan born on 12th December 1941 is an Indian Scientist and aerospace Engineer. He was in charge of the cryogenics division at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as a senior official.

Nambi Narayanan Biography

In 1994 He was wrongly accused of espionage and was detained. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) dismissed the charges against him in April 1996, and the Supreme Court of India declared him not guilty in 1998.

Nambi Narayanan

Narayanan was awarded a reward of ₹5,000,000 (roughly US$70,000) by the Supreme Court in 2018, via the bench of Dipak Misra, to be recovered from the Kerala government within eight weeks. The Kerala government, on the other hand, agreed to grant him ₹1.3 crore (roughly US$183,000).

The Supreme Court also set up a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge D. K. Jain to look into the role of Kerala police officials in Narayanan’s arrest. In 2019, he received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award.

Early Life & Education

S. Nambi Narayanan was born on 12th December, 1941, into a middle-class Tamil Brahmin family in Nagercoil, Travancore, which is now part of the Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu. There he also attended DVD Higher Secondary School. His ancestors came from Tirukurungudi village in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli District.

Scientific Career

In 1966, while working as a payload integrator with another eminent scientist, Y. S. Rajan, at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, Narayanan met Vikram Sarabhai, the then Chairman of ISRO. Sarabhai, who was also the chairman of the Space Science and Technology Centre (SSTC) at the time, only hired highly skilled individuals.

Nambi Narayanan

Narayanan decided to pursue his MTech degree at the College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram. When Sarabhai heard of this, he offered him leave to pursue higher education at any of the Ivy League universities. Narayanan was then awarded a NASA fellowship and admitted to Princeton University in 1969.

Under the supervision of professor Luigi Crocco, he completed his master’s programme in chemical rocket propulsion in a record-breaking 10 months. Despite being offered a job in the United States, Narayanan returned to India with knowledge of liquid propulsion at a time when Indian rocketry depended solely on solid propellants.

When A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s team was working on solid motors in the early 1970s, Narayanan introduced liquid fuel rocket technology to India. He predicted the need for liquid-fueled engines in ISRO’s future civilian space programmes, and was encouraged by then-chairman Satish Dhawan and his successor, U. R. Rao.

In the mid-1970s, Narayanan started designing liquid propellant motors, first constructing a powerful 600 kilogramme (1,300 lb) thrust engine and then progressing to larger engines.

In 1992, India and Russia agreed to share technologies in order to build cryogenic fuel-based engines and to purchase two of them for Rs. 235 crore. It did not materialise, however, after US President George H. W. Bush wrote to Russia, raising objections to technology transfer and even threatening to exclude Russia from the select-five group.

Nambi Narayanan

Under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, Russia caved in to the pressure and refused India access to the technology. After floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology, India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines, as well as two mockups, for a total of US$9 million.

ISRO had already reached an agreement with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited, which would have offered the most cost-effective tender for engine fabrication. The spy scandal of 1994, however, stopped this from happening.

After nearly two decades of work, Narayanan’s team developed the Vikas engine, which is used by many ISRO rockets, including the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which launched Chandrayaan-1 to the moon in 2008. PSLV’s second stage, as well as the second and four strap-on stages of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, are powered by the Vikas engine (GSLV).

Allegations of Being a Spy

Narayanan was charged in 1994 with revealing crucial defence information to Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan, two suspected Maldivian intelligence officers. The secrets, according to defence officials, were extremely classified “flight test details” from rocket and satellite launches.

Narayanan was one of two scientists suspected of selling the secrets for millions of dollars (the other being D. Sasikumaran). His home, on the other hand, seemed to be average and showed no signs of the ill-gotten benefits he was accused of.

Nambi Narayanan

Narayanan was arrested and jailed for 48 days. He says that the officials who interrogated him for the Intelligence Bureau wanted him to make false allegations against ISRO’s top brass. Two IB officials allegedly asked him to implicate A. E. Muthunayagam, his boss and former Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, he claims (LPSC).

He was tortured until he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital because he refused to comply. His key argument against ISRO, he claims, is that it failed to help him. ISRO chairman Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan said at the time that ISRO could not intervene in a legal matter.

The allegations were rejected as false by the CBI in May 1996. In April 1998, the Supreme Court disqualified them as well. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued strictures against the Kerala government in September 1999, alleging that the government had harmed Narayanan’s distinguished career in space science, as well as the physical and mental abuse to which he and his family had been subjected.

The two scientists, Sasikumar and Narayanan, were transferred out of Thiruvananthapuram and given desk jobs after the charges against them were dismissed.

In 2001, the National Human Rights Commission directed Kerala’s government to pay him a fee of Rs. 1 crore.

He retired from the company in 2001. Based on an appeal filed by NHRC India in September 2012, the Kerala High Court ordered that Nambi Narayanan be compensated in the sum of Rs 10 lakhs.

Nambi Narayanan

The Hindu announced on 3 October 2012 that the Kerala government had dropped charges against the police officials who were supposed to have wrongly implicated Narayanan in the espionage case because the case had been open for over 15 years. Siby Mathews, the case’s top officer, was later named Chief Information Commissioner in Kerala (2011 – 2016).

Nambi Narayanan Fight for Justice

On November 7, 2013, Narayanan pressed for justice in his case, attempting to reveal the conspirators. This case, he claims, would ‘discourage’ the youth. On September 14, 2018, the Supreme Court named a three-member panel led by a former Supreme Court judge to investigate the “harrowing” detention and alleged torture of former space scientist Nambi in the phoney “ISRO spy scandal.”

Mr. Narayanan was also given Rs. 50 lakh in compensation by a three-judge tribunal headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra for the “mental cruelty” he faced over the years. The reprieve comes nearly a quarter-century after Mr. Narayanan began his legal fights for his honour and justice in various forums. Aside from that, the Kerala government has agreed to reward him with Rs 1.3 crore.

The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan award on January 26, 2019.

Biographical Movie

Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, a biographical film written and co-directed by R. Madhavan, was announced in October 2018. The film’s teaser was released on April 1, 2021, and the film is due to be released in the summer of 2021.


On October 26, 2017, his autobiography, “Ormakalude Bhramanapadham,” was released. In the early 1990s, Nambi Narayanan and five others were subjected to frequent third-degree and prolonged questioning by the Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau in connection with the ISRO espionage case.ISRO scientist D. Sasikumaran, Russian space agency official K. Chandrasekhar, ISRO contractor S.K. Sharma, and two Maldivian women were among the other suspects in the case.

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