Nambi Narayanan

Nambi Narayanan
Nambi Narayanan.jpg
Narayanan in 2017
Born (1941-12-12) 12 December 1941 (age 80)
OccupationAerospace engineer
AwardsPadma Bhushan (2019)[3]

S. Nambi Narayanan (born 12 December 1941)[4] is an Indian aerospace engineer, who worked for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and contributed significantly to Indian space program by developing the Vikas rocket engine. He led the team which acquired technology from the French for the Vikas engine used in the first PSLV that India launched.[5] As a senior official at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he was in-charge of the cryogenics division.[6] He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian award, in March 2019.[7]

In 1994, he was falsely implicated in an espionage case, arrested and physically tortured in custody.[8] The charges against him were disproven by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April 1996,[9] and the Supreme Court of India stopped the Kerala government on technical grounds from continuing its investigation.[10] In 2018, the Supreme Court, through the bench of Dipak Misra, awarded Narayanan a compensation of 50 Lakh (US$70,000). The Government of Kerala decided to give him a further 1.3 crore (~US$183,000).[11][12] The film Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, based on his life, starring and directed by R Madhavan, was released in July 2022.

Early and personal life

Nambi Narayanan was born on 12 December 1941 in a Tamil Hindu family[13] in Nagercoil, in the erstwhile Princely state of Travancore (present-day Kanyakumari District). He completed his schooling at DVD Higher Secondary School, Nagercoil.[14][15] He did his Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai.[2] Nambinarayanan lost his father while pursuing his degree in Madurai. He had two sisters. As soon as his father died his mother fell sick. Nambi married Meena Nambi and has two children. Their son, Shankar Nambi, is a businessman.[citation needed] Their daughter Geetha Arunan is a Montessori school teacher in Bangalore[citation needed] and is married to Subbiah Arunan, an ISRO scientist, director of the Mars Orbiter Mission and Padma Shri awardee.[16]


After studying mechanical engineering in Madurai, Narayanan started his career in 1966 at ISRO as a technical assistant at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station.[10] He 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. He returned to India with expertise in liquid propulsion at a time when Indian rocketry was still solely dependent on solid propellants.[17][better source needed] He has claimed that he had to educate Sarabhai on liquid propulsion technology in his book.[4]

In 1974, Societe Europeenne de Propulsion agreed to transfer the Viking engine technology in return for 100 man-years of engineering work from ISRO. This transfer was completed by three teams and Narayanan led the team of fifty-two engineers who worked on technology acquisition from French. Other two teams worked on indigenizing the hardware in India and establishing the development facilities in Mahendragiri. The first engine, named Vikas, was tested successfully in 1985.[5] An enquiry by the vigilance cell in 1982 was dropped later. R. B. Sreekumar, in his capacity as the commandant of the Central Industrial Security Force unit posted at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, had investigated an allegation of tender manipulation by Narayanan.[10] In 1994, he submitted a request of voluntary resignation, a month before his arrest by Kerala police. [10]

On 26 January 2019, he was conferred with the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India for developing the Vikas rocket engine.

False espionage charges

On 30 November 1994, Narayanan was arrested as part of an investigation of alleged espionage, by a team of Kerala police and Intelligence Bureau officials, based on the videographed statements by a colleague that he and Narayanan had received money for transferring drawings and documents of rocket engines to two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauziyya Hassan, who were suspected to be spies. In December 1994, the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was criticized in media and by opposition parties in Kerala. CBI was seen to be under the thumb of P. V. Narasimha Rao, then prime minister of India and some of the people named in the investigation were close to Rao and K. Karunakaran, then chief minister of Kerala.[10]

Narayanan spent 50 days in jail. He claims that officials from the Intelligence Bureau, who initially interrogated 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). He says that when he refused to comply, he was tortured until he collapsed and was hospitalised.[18] He says his main complaint against ISRO is that it did not support him. K. Kasturirangan, who was ISRO chairman at the time stated that ISRO could not interfere in a legal matter.[citation needed] He has written that the director of CBI Vijaya Rama Rao met him in jail on 8 December (four days after the case was transferred), when he explained to the director that the drawings of rockets and engines were not classified. He has written that the CBI director wondered how the case has gotten so far and apologized in that meeting.[10]

In April 1996, before the 1996 Indian general election, CBI submitted a closure report,[19] saying that there was no espionage and that the testimonies of suspects were coerced by torture.[10]: 1 In a previous order in a related case, Kerala High Court, which had seen the videos of interrogation, had dismissed allegations of torture and made critical comments about CBI's failure to follow all the leads.[10] Amid attention on lacunae in CBI closure report, a challenge of the report in Kerala High Court by S. Vijayan, a police officer[19] and continuing political pressure, the Kerala government revoked the permission granted previously to CBI to investigate the case and enjoined Kerala police to take it up again. But a Supreme Court bench stopped it in April 1998 saying that "the CBI found that no case had been made out" and ordered the Kerala government to pay Rs 1 lakh to each of the accused including Narayanan.[20] 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.[21]

In 2001, the NHRC ordered the government of Kerala to pay him a compensation of 1 crore.[22] 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.

After a meeting between Narendra Modi and Narayanan in Thiruvananthapuram,[23] the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took up the case and Narayanan's treatment, especially by Sreekumar, in its campaign for 2014 Indian general election.[24]

On 14 September 2018, the Supreme Court appointed a panel to probe the "harrowing" arrest and alleged torture of Narayanan. 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.[25] The same month, Narayanan's name was recommended for Padma awards by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, then a BJP member of parliament.[26] In January 2019, Modi said that "it was an honour for his government to confer the Padma Bhushan on Nambi Narayanan".[27] The case and the Padma award featured in BJP's campaign for 2019 Indian general election,[10] with Modi asking "I hope you are aware what the Congress has done to Kerala's own scientist Nambi Narayan" in a rally in Thiruvananthapuram.[28]

Recent developments

In 2021, Kerala government settled the case filed against it by Narayanan by agreeing to a payment of 1.3 crore (US$160,000).[29]

On 14 Apr 2021 the Supreme Court of India ordered a CBI probe into the involvement of police officers in the conspiracy.[30] Several of the involved police officers filed petitions in different courts in Kerala in which several documents showing transfer of lands between 2004 and 2008 by Narayanan to various CBI officers involved in the investigation, were produced.[31] The Kerala High Court dismissed one of the pleas to investigate the land deals.[32] It said that the documents weren't proof enough, but allowed the petitioners to file a fresh case with better sale records.[33]

President Kovind presents Padma Bhushan to Shri S. Nambi Narayanan


In 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 Dec 2012, he acted as a professor in documovie, "Mizhineerkayal" about the Alleppey-kuttanad backwaters.


  1. ^ "Nambi Narayanan : R Madhavan's 'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect' will explore the untold story of scientist Nambi Narayanan. Here's what you need to know". The Economic Times. Archived from the original on 27 June 2022. Retrieved 2 August 2022.
  2. ^ a b "After 5 decades, TCE students come together for a reunion". The Hindu. 9 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b President Kovind presents Padma Bhushan to Shri S. Nambi Narayanan. Government of India. 16 March 2019. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  4. ^ a b Narayanan, Nambi; Ram, Arun (2018). Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9789386826275. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b Muthunayagam, A.E (10 December 2015). Rao, P.V. Manoranjan (ed.). From Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet: India's Space Journey. Harper Collins. p. 344. ISBN 978-93-5177-690-1.
  6. ^ "Nambi Narayanan sees U.S. hand in ISRO spy case". The Hindu. Special Correspondent. 6 August 2021. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 22 March 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ President Kovind presents Padma Bhushan to Shri S. Nambi Narayanan. Government of India. 16 March 2019. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  8. ^ Scroll Staff. "'Rocketry – The Nambi Effect' teaser: Madhavan presents scientist Nambi Narayanan's story".
  9. ^ Aravind, Indulekha (17 June 2018). "Isro spy case: The scientist who came in from the cold". The Economic Times. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i MS, Nileena (1 November 2020). "Space Secrets: How the CBI killed India's biggest espionage case". Caravan.(subscription required)
  11. ^ "Isro scientist Nambi Narayanan implicated in fake spy case to get Rs 1.3 crore from Kerala govt". India Today. Press Trust of India. 27 December 2019. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan to get ₹1.3 crore". The Hindu. Special Correspondent. 26 December 2019. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 27 December 2019.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  13. ^ "'Is It Sin To Be Hindu?', Nambi Narayanan Responds To Criticism Over His Religion In 'Rocketry'".
  14. ^ "Memories of a 'spy' who won - Framed scientist vindicated on milestone-eve".
  15. ^ "How Nambi Narayanan was framed in a fake Spy Case?". Taazakhabar News. 17 September 2018.
  16. ^ Ram, Arun. "S Arunan: Man behind ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission". The Economic Times. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  17. ^ Ittyipe, Minu (13 July 2017). "A Gladiator in the Space-Ring". Outlook. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  18. ^ Sarin, Ritu (3 January 1999). "Wrongly accused ISRO scientist seeks damages". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 28 September 2004. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b Joshi, Charulata (31 August 1996). "ISRO spy scandal: IB, Kerala Police dispute CBI contention of bungling up the probe". India Today.
  20. ^ Krishnakuar, R (8 May 1998). "Requiem for a scandal". Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  21. ^ "Cops Tortured Me". Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  22. ^ A shattered man now sits cool and detached. The Hindu, 8 September 2012.
  23. ^ Radhakrishnan, MG (15 November 2013). "You made me a Modi admirer: Nambinarayanan". India Today.
  24. ^ "BJP attacks Modi-baiter cop Sreekumar, rakes up ISRO spy case". PTI. 7 November 2013.
  25. ^ Rajagopal, Krishnadas (14 September 2018). "ISRO spy case victim wants justice". The Hindu.
  26. ^ Rakesh, K.M. (26 January 2019). "Former Kerala top cop puts BJP in spot over Padma for Nambi". Telegraph (India).
  27. ^ ""Patriotic ISRO Scientist Falsely Implicated": PM Modi On Nambi Narayanan".
  28. ^ "'Can we forgive Cong for what they did to scientist Nambi Narayanan': Modi in Kerala". The News Minute. 19 April 2019.
  29. ^ "Nambi Narayanan gets ₹1.3 cr. additional compensation". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 12 March 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  30. ^ "ISRO Spy Case". The New Indian Express. 15 April 2021. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  31. ^ Cherukkad, Rajan (24 July 2021). "ISRO case getting murkier: Ex-cops allege Nambi Narayanan transferred acres of land to CBI officers". Mathrubhumi.
  32. ^ "ISRO case: Kerala HC dismisses plea claiming Nambi Narayanan influenced CBI probe by land deals". PTI. 15 November 2021.
  33. ^ "Nambi Narayanan influenced CBI probe in ISRO spy case through land deals with agency officials: Kerala HC told". PTI. 10 November 2021.
  34. ^ "R. Madhavan: 95 per cent of Indians don't know about Nambi Narayanan, which I think is a crime". 1 November 2018.
  35. ^ "Teaser of R Madhavan's 'Rocketry – The Nambi Effect' gets 10 million views in 24 hours!". IMDb.

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