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How India's Space Program was Sabotaged - Part II: Nambi Narayanan Describes the Targeting of ISRO by Shreekumar Masterminded Team of IB Officials

In Part 1 of this article I had described the role of IPS officer R B Sreekumar in fabricating the ISRO spy scandal allegedly at the behest of the CIA. (Read article: https://www.manushi.in/science--technology/rb-shreekumar-hero-no-2-of-secular-brigade---part-i-the-man-who-sabotaged-isro--wrecked-scientists-at-the-behest-of-cia) In Part II, leading ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan describes the absurd charges on which he and others were arrested  and hounded  in order to sabotage the chances of ISRO developing its own satellite technology. This caused long term setback or India's space program.

I interviewed Nambi Narayanan at his home in Trivandrum on 26 August 2013. The publishing of Nambi Narayanan's interview was delayed because some of the video files got corrupted while we were transcribing them. It took a while to get them sorted out so that I could post the video interview along with a written account of what Nambi had told me.

However, in the meantime, I brought his plight to the notice of several people who can help Nambi Narayanan fight his battle. When I met Narendra Modi for my third interview in early September, I asked him if he knew about Sreekumar's role in the ISRO spy scandal and described Nambi's current plight. Modi made it a point to meet Nambi Narayanan when he landed in Trivandrum on 26 August on his way to attend the 60th birthday celebrations of Ma Amritanadmayee. That is how this case came to the notice of the BJP leaders and Times Now. I sincerely hope Arnab Goswami will follow this case to its logical conclusion.Nambi Narayanan's lone battle deserves far greater attention than it has received thus far.

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Nambi Narayanan was one of the top scientists of India when, in 1994, he was implicated in a patently false case by the Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau ( IB) officials of the Government of India. He was falsely charged with selling satellite technology to Pakistan through two semi-educated Maldivian women.          

Nambi Narayanan held several important posts when the ISRO spy scandal rocked India. He was Project Director for the second stage of the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) as well as Project Director for the fourth stage of PSLV and Project Director for the Cryogenic project, which is the one which is needed for the GSLV (Geo Satellite Launch Vehicle)  In addition, he was Deputy Director, Liquid Propulsions Systems Centre, Associate Project Director for PSLV and GLSV, etc. etc. In short, he was the key person at ISRO for developing liquid propulsion systems.

Narayanan was arrested on 30/10/1994 at the behest of  a team of IB officials on charges of selling India's technology secrets to Pakistan.The consequent hounding that Narayanan suffered led to a tragic and sudden closure to the brilliant career of this rocket scientist and marred his personal life and health irreparably. A CBI enquiry discovered that R.B. Shreekumar, who was then posted as Joint Director, IB, at Trivandrum, played a leading role in fabricating the case as part of a calculated move to destroy or irreparably damage ISRO in order to prevent this premier space research institution from emerging as a real competitor to the US and France in space technology.

Brian Harvey, in his well-researched book Russia in Space--The Failed Frontier (Springer in collaboration with Praxis Publishing, UK) and Rajshekhar Nair in his book Spies in Space, (Konark Publishers) have both brought together a wealth of evidence to prove that the CIA was behind the targeting of ISRO and destroying the lives of some of its best scientists. Worse still, it terrorized the entire scientific community at ISRO. The institution lost much of its momentum and self-confidence which led to a loss of precious years in achieving the goal of developing satellite launch technology for India. For years, Nambi Narayanan has been pressing the Government of India to investigate the alleged role of CIA in the sabotage of ISRO. But the Government has paid no heed.

I have had to take liberties with condensing a three hour long interview of Nambi Narayanan to cull out key points. The unedited video recorded interview is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GNnxc6PNw4

Narayanan began by saying,

“My aim was to equip this country as a space power. You become a space power only if you are capable of launching Geo Synchronous launch vehicles which enable you to throw a geo synchronous satellite to be stationed at a height of 36,000 kms. For example, today almost all the communication needs-- telecommunications, television transmissions, and telephones etc.- are coming through the so-called Geo Synchronous system. And all the countries are after such a system because it provides the basis for a huge commercial business. In the year 1994, the total business estimated on this score alone was US $ 300 billion. That is the kind of business potential it has. As far as I am concerned, I was trying to equip India for that.

If we had launched it in the year 2001, we would have long ago been in the field of selling the Geosynchronous launch vehicles. I told you US $ 300 billion is the estimated business. Because our cost is one third, it is safe to assume that we would have at least 50% share of that business? That makes it US $ 150 billion.

A big team of over 20,000 people were working on this project. It was all derailed because US, our main competitor, could not digest India as a effective rival.

In 1991, ISRO had signed an Agreement with Russia—a country which had alongstanding friendly relation with India. ISRO was all set to have the technology and the capability ready for launch by 1999 or 2000. Thus in 1994, when the spy scandal hit us, ISRO was just 6-7 years from launching itsown satellite. Thus far, Russia, China, America and France are the only countries capable of geo synchronous launch. If India became capable of building the cryogenic technology, then it too would be counted as a real competitor in space power.

Out of these four, Russia and China are not really into the commercial aspect of this technology due to reasons connected with their internal policies. Only America and France are thriving in the commercial domain of this technology. If India becomes successful, we would become the third country in the entire world to develop commercial success from this system.

Russia had agreed to the transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels for Rs. 235 crore when the US and France were offering the same technology for Rs 950 crore and Rs. 650 crore respectively. This had upset the French and Americans. US President George W. Bush wrote to Russia raising objections against this agreement and even threatening to blacklist Russia from the select five clubs. Russia under Boris Yeltsin succumbed to US pressure and denied cryogenic technology to India. To by-pass this monopoly, India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology. ISRO had already reached a consensus with Kerala High Tech Industries Limited (Kettech) MTAR and Godrej which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricated engines. All this was done through a due transparent process by the Contract Negotiating Committee of ISRO.

According to Narayanan, “liquid propulsion systems consist of two things. “One is the earth soluble propellant; that means you can store it under room temperature. And another one is cryogenic. Cryogenic are storable at sub-zero temperatures. Cryogenic is also a liquid propellant but it has higher energy. The energy index for the liquid propulsion is something like 290 seconds: it is measured in terms of seconds. And the liquid cryogenics have an energy level of 460. That is the kind of difference. Now if you want to be economical, if you want to be cost effective, then you need to have the cryogenic systems. And the class, the weight which we need to launch is in the order of about 4 tonnes of satellite. We were working towards that. And I was instrumental on the liquid propulsion side.To launch, to reach this capability, you need solid propulsion, you need liquid propulsion, you need cryogenic and you need control guidance and you need electronics, computers, instrumentation, you need launchpads, handling infrastructures, etc. etc. I was looking after the liquid propulsion systems--taking care of almost half of it in terms of capability.”

But all this was blasted by a team of Intelligence Bureau Officials, of whom R.B. Sreekumar was a leading member, cracking down on selected ISRO scientists on charges of being spies and selling India's “defence” technology secrets to Pakistan. Nambi explains:

The situation is like this --you want to get into a railway compartment which is already occupied. But you are not allowed to get in because everybody inside says ‘There is no space for you'. But somehow you manage to get in. Then you join the crowd and stop other people from entering. This is what this space business is like. America and France have this monopoly in doing this satellite launch. Even today we are getting ours launched by the Americans and French. If we had got our own cryogenic, then we need not have depended on these people. Number two, we could have sold the launch service to so many other countries in the world and made big money for India, which we describe as payload, into the geosynchronous orbit. The Americans normally charge around US$ 95,000 per kg. And the French price is close to that. But our cost was in the order of about US$ 30,000 per kg—almost one third of the rate charged by Americans and French. Our price is relatively low.

Now this kind of competition could not be digested by our rivals who have a monopoly. So they destroyed our capability by getting ourtop scientists implicated in a fabricated spy case. All of a sudden, they charged us for having transferred this technology to Pakistan through these Maldivian women. Later we found out, one of the accused Maldivian woman could just about converse in English but was not well educated. Another one could'nt speak a word of English. She came purely for the purpose of putting her child in a school in Bangalore. She also had a health problem and wanted to go through heart surgery. But they landed into this soup without having the remotest connection with our space program. Poor women, they were trapped in Trivandrum. They were from a country which is in a weak position vis-s-vis India, so they really suffered. They were forced to make statements against themselves through sheer third degree torture. Charges against them were a total fabrication of Kerala Police and IB.

Brian Harvey has the following to say about the "dirty tricks campaign" of the US:

The KVD-1 had now become caught up in a much bigger game - the negotiations between America and Russia for the construction of the International Space Station. Russia suggested compensation for loss of the Indian contract and the $400m paid by the United States for seven American flights to Mir may have become part of the equation.

The negotiations were later described as very tough, but the Indians managed to negotiate a lower price and extra engines in exchange for the loss of technology transfer. In addition, two models would be supplied to test how they would best fit the launcher shroud.

According to some American sources, the Russians transferred the production technology in any case. The appropriate documents, instruments and equipment were allegedly transferred in four shipments from Moscow to Delhi on covert flights by Ural Airlines. As a cover, they used ‘legitimate' transhipments of Indian aircraft technology travelling the other way to Moscow for testing in Russian wind-tunnels. The plot thickened when, in October 1994, two senior scientists at the Indian Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, S. Nambi Narayanan and P. Sasikumaran, were arrested for ‘spying for foreign countries'. Eventually, the Central Bureau of Investigation admitted that the charges against S. Nambi Narayanan and P. Sasikumaran were false and baseless and they were freed. Later, the United States was accused of setting them up as part of a dirty tricks campaign against the sale of the KVD-1.(“Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier”, Springer in collaboration with Praxis Publishing, UK, p. 259]…
Six people were arrested--4 from ISRO plus 2 Maldivian women. Their main catch was Nambi. The second ISRO victim was Sashi Kumaran, who was arrested from Ahmedabad where he was then posted. Third one to be arrested was SK Sharma a small time supply contractor for ISRO. The fourth victim was Chandrashekar, an officially appointedagent of the Russian company with whom ISRO had the contract for the cryogenics.

Narayanan explains how he figured out their agenda and why he and key people of his cryogenics team were targeted in particular:

I was working with cryogenics as project director, Shashi Kumar was deputy project director, and Chandrashekhar was working as the agent of the cryogenic company. Reddy, an excellent person contributing to ISRO's growth through his own company was also alleged to be a part of our spy ring. Incidentally, he had also gone with me to Russia to understand cryogenic technology. All of us were connected with the development of cryogenic technology which was their main target.

The reason I was their prime target is that I was capable of analysing multidisciplinary situations—from the mechanical, to electrical, civil, guidance, control, metallurgy, fabrication-- everything involved in putting together the whole system.  Without a multi-functional person like me coordinating the project, the satellite launch could not be achieved. 

I soon realized that they were not reallly interested in  investigating the case.  For example, I was arrested on 30th November 1994 by the Kerala Police (KP). Now on the same day, the Kerala Police gave a recommendation to transfer the case to the CBI. Now if the recommendation  for handing over the case to CBI is also on the same day, they could have left it to the CBI to arrest me.

But they didn't wait because they knew that given the lack of evidence, CBI would not have arrested me. The big question is why did the Kerala Police and IB cook up this spy story? It could not have been a case of error of judgement simply because the person at the sub inspector level who did the dirty job didn't even know how to spell cryogenic. Those policemen who carried out raids and did all the criminal acts couldn't possibly have imagined this story.  This was actually masterminded by some senior officers of IB.

Simultaneously, the Russians who are India's old friends told us that they wouldnot be able to transfer the technology. Why would they back out all of a sudden? This is where the CIA is suspected to have had a role to play.  Now, in any crime, you have to find out the possible motive. The next question to ask is: who could be the beneficiary?

Their actions made it obvious that the motive was to remove ISRO from emerging as a competitor. And the beneficiaries are obviously those companies which were competing with ISRO. But they couldn't do it directly. They had to get it done through some other people. Who are these people? Our own people

In addition, R.B. Shreekumar also implicated a fellow IPS officer- DIG Police, Raman Srivastava. The charge was that when “Nambi Narayanan mooted the idea of commercial exploitation of the details on PS-2 programme involving Vikas engine”, he involved his junior Sasikumaran who initiated Chandrashekhar into the conspiracy who in turn was to tie up a deal through the Maldivian national Fauzia. It was alleged by the IB that Raman Srivastava even established a consortium with Chandrasekhar and Nambi Narayanan to set up large business ventures:

Raman Srivastava, then DIG, collected packets from the residence of Nambi Narayanan and delivered [them]to Maldivian woman Zuhaira at Hotel Pankaj in Trivandrum in June 1991. That in October, 1994, another set of Viking drawings was brought by Nambi Narayanan from Sriharikota after unsuccessful launch of PSLV-1 …As planned, Mohammed Aslam, Abdul Haleel, Nambi Narayanan, Raman Srivastava, Chandrasekhar, S.K. Sharma, Sasikumaran and Venu Nair assembled in room No. 108 of Zuhaira in Hotel Luciya at 0930 hrs on 23.9.94. Raman Srivastava took the bag containing 9 lakhs US$ and the documents were delivered to Abdul Haleel and others”.

As with Nambi Narayanan, the CBI report says, that the IB implicated Raman Srivastava without a shred of evidence and without disclosing the grounds for allegations against the IGP. In the process, this senior officer faced endless humiliation and his career too was marred for ever. (page 24)

Narayanan says:

The absurdity of the charge that ISRO scientists sold technology secrets through two Maldivian women becomes obvious if you consider that neither of these two women were educated enough to have made sense of complex scientific documents.

One could just about converse in English but was not well educated. Another one couldn't speak a single word of English. She came purely for the purpose of putting her child into a school in Bangalore. And she also had a health problem. She wanted to go through a heart surgery. But they landed into this soup. The police trapped them in Trivandrum. Poor women, they were helpless. And they are from a country which is in a subservient position vis-a-vis India. So they really suffered. They were forced to make statements against themselves through sheer third degree torture.

This is how the arrest of Maldivian women is described in ‘Spies in Space' by Rajshekhar Nair:

On October 8, Mariam, accompanied by Fauziya Hassan, went to the Foreigners' Section in the Commissioner's office where she met circle inspector Vijayan. After taking her air tickets to Maldives, she had two tickets, one by Indian Airlines and the other by Air Lanka so as to leave India on 17 in case the NOC could not be obtained- he asked her to come after two days. She did so, but he was not there.

The third day, Inspector Vijayan came to meet her in Room 205. He asked Fauziya to wait outside. He then touched her with unsavoury intentions….Mariam didn't like the bull-like Vijayan. She didn't like the way he touched her. She couldn't stand his palpable lust. “Bas….”, she yelled, “get out.”Eight days later, Inspector Vijayan arrested her for over-stay and fabricated an espionage case.

Then it was hell. Interrogators beat her black and blue. Stripped her naked. Forced her to stand without sleep for nights together… (Page 121]  ( http://www.scribd.com/doc/180238344/SPIES-FROM-SPACE-THE-ISRO-FRAME-UP)

Narayanan says,

The Kerala police disown all responsibility saying, ‘we did not do the interrogation. We were suddenly asked to do certain things by the IB.

Their main allegation was that we sold the cryogenic technology to Pakistan through these Maldivian woman, who would take it to Korea and from Korea it would go to Pakistan through all kinds of funny routes. This case was launched against us in 1994. It has been 18 years since then. The bizarre part is that even today we don't have that technology. How could I have sold 18 years back what we don't have even today?

Equally important, this particular technology is just not fit to be used for missiles. Nowhere in the world is cryogenic used for missiles because the preparation time is very high. If you want to prepare a cryogenic system launch sequence, it will take more than 48 hours to 72 hours. No missile can be made to wait upto that long.  If the decision is made, you have to launch instantly. You can't be made to wait so long. Therefore, it is totally unsuitable for launching missiles.

Rajashekhar Nair also endorses this saying:

No sensible military management would recommend a war weapon that needs a gestation period of 48 hours before the signal for launch and the actual execution of it in the thick of a war. Missiles mostly have solid propellants which can be assembled and kept ready in the launching pad. You can fire it in five minutes flat. …The technically absurd terminology was aired by the IB with a purpose. To divert attention from the commercial angle. In the process, the IB has also labelled ISRO as a defence research centre. The label that America and Pakistan have been trying hard all these years to paste on ISRO now stands engraved on it. ("Spies in Space", Page 34)

But the Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau managed to sell all these lies to the media and in the process sabotaged ISRO's capability to launch satellites and caused grievous damage to the institution. Narayanan goes on to explain:

These technologies cannot be transferred just like that by passing a set of papers or drawings to any odd person. To acquire this know-how, a large team of us engineers had gone to France on a legal contract and stayed there for more than 3 to 4 years with their back up team supporting us. There were 2500 of us. With so many different industries augmenting our work, we still took 19 years to make this system. How the hell can you transfer this technology by passing on some drawings through these two uneducated ladies?

Take the example of Boeing aircraft 747. At Bombay we are stripping it to pieces and then re-assembling it with consumables and other parts. Now this is a mandatory requirement that after an aircraft has completed so many flight hours, you have to service it. You have the parts in hand, you have the complete assembly procedure, and you can easily make drawings of those parts. And yet with all those drawings why the hell are you not being able to make a Boeing 747?

People do not understand that technology transfer is not as simple a procedure as passing on a few drawings—that too to a poorly educated person with no background in science.  Technology is different from know-how. And with that know-how alone you can make consistent reliable technology. Otherwise, it will just crash land. See, that technology is now being used by PSLV Chandrayaan mission and then it will be used by the Mars mission. Till date it has had consecutive successes 22 times. It shows that it is a reliable system. That is what I have contributed to this country.

Narayanan points to still more absurdities:

After all, this was sold to us by France. We had incurred an expense of just one crore for this technology in 1974. Now if Pakistan is interested, they can as well go to France and get it for that price –which was after all  only Rs 1crore. And who the hell will try to buy through spies from an enemy country for US$ 400 million, what they can easily buy from France for a relatively small price?

Every country would like to put a spy satellite into the orbit which can be used for watching movements on the ground. Therefore, you won't give this technology to an enemy country. The enemy countries will not come to you even if you give the satellite technologyfor free. Conversely, even if your charges are exorbitant, friendly countries will not go away from you because they want the supplier country to be reliable.

What Pakistanis could have bought from the French for Rs1 crore or 2 crores, we are supposed to have sold for 400 crores! And that too by giving a set of drawings to these two uneducated Maldivian women! The absurdity of it becomes clearer if you know that since we were floating public tenders for fabrication of satellite parts, we were giving one full set of those drawings to all the fabricators one full set of drawings for Rs. 2000.The whole thing was a mockery. And the press believed it.

Narayanan says:

I told all this to the Kerala police as well as the IB. But they didn't want to listen! Why? Because they were hell bent on fabricating this story. When the same facts were told to CBI they went through the evidence and came to the conclusion that it was all bogus. And CBI team consisted of big IPS stalwarts. But the Kerala Police and IB made lowly sub inspectors and constables deal with us. They were only instructed to manhandle us, torture us.”

Even the high and mighty IB officers in Delhi became willing tools. In 1994, DC Parakh was Director of IB and MK Dhar was the Joint Director. To quote Rajshekhar Nair:

With MK Dhar taking command, the scenario underwent a sea-change. That was because the moles the CIA had planted in both IB and ISRO had dropped names and cues to Dhar after neatly veiling the fact that their real interest was to see that India missed the bus to the international space oligopoly. Totally oblivious of the hidden agenda, Dhar strongly believed that the sensational case could help him manage the extension for a couple of years he badly wanted.

Nobody made a hue and cry, not even the courts. A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court went to the extent of lauding the illegal and criminal acts of the IB. How could the IB plant a spy story and puncture the Indian space morale to foster American interests? The people in authority at the Central and State level should have bothered about it. But they didn't, because of their short-sighted perceptions born out of political considerations and not the larger concern for the nation's interests.(Spies in Space, p. 27)

Narayanan talks about the long term impact it had on ISRO morale:

I thought to myself, they could as well have killed me, eliminated me. Why did they arrest me? The answer was that they wanted to terrorise and demoralize the entire scientific community at ISRO.That was their goal.

See, earlier in our own system, our engineers would go to the documentation section; they would borrow all kinds of documents and read them in the library. They would also routinely borrow documents to take home with them so that they could continue studying them while travelling from Trivandrum city to the ISRO Centre which takes about one hour. So one hour going and one hour coming—they got these two additional hours studying the reports. This was a habit developed by ISRO engineers for years! Once we were arrested--all of them stopped borrowing any documents from the library. They were terrified that if this could happen to Nambi Narayanan, any of them could be arrested tomorrow. So nobody now goes to the documentation section and nobody borrows the documents.

The net result is that scientists are not as vigorous in enhancing their knowledge. After all ISRO, as Dr. Kalam once put it, was built by our blood and sweat. The arrests led to massive demoralization. How many people are aware that even today we don't have the cryogenic technology? The satellite has not been launched yet. A nine year programme has slipped behind by 12 years! And nobody bothers! This is what our competitors asked for. They wanted to derail the whole thing. They don't want India to emerge as a competitor.  America was applying pressure on the disintegrated Russia-it is no more the once powerful Soviet Union—to deny giving India this technology. Russianspersearepro-Indians and they treat India as a good friend. But within Russia also you have both anti-American and pro-American groups. So America pressured Russians to annul the cryogenic contract with India.Now, this is stated in a book written by a space scientist, Brian Harvey. He is a 75 year old man who published this book called “Russia in SpaceThe Failed Frontier.” In that he clearly states that the Americans gave US $ 400 million to Russia for dropping this contract with India.

 

Narayanan explains how the Russians were forced to wriggle out of the contract with India:

The Russians used the force majeure clause which means for reasons beyond their control' to cancel the contract. They said sorry, we will have to modify the contract. The contract was modified without the technology. So what we did was that, instead of getting three-four assembled pieces, we got 7 pieces. But the technology was not enough to give us the ability to launch our own satellite.

The Americans gave 400 million dollars to Russia at that time towards the making of an international space station.Out of the US$ 400 million, a portion was really meant to compensate for the loss which Russia incurred due to cancelling or scrapping the cryogenic contract with India.

Many eminent scientists and public figures of India wrote an open letter protesting against the treatment meted out to me. The names included Prof Satish Dhawan and Professor U R Rao, both of whom are retired Chairmen, ISRO; Prof. Yashpal (retd. Chairman University Grants Commission); Mr. TN Seshan (Retd. Chief Election Commissioner); Prof. Rodam Narasimha (Chairman, NIAS); and Prof. Chandrashekhar (IIM Bangalore), lauding my contribution to the space program. In this open letter they say very clearly that if this trend continues,onecannot stop the interference of foreign countries into ourspace (and other) programmes. This is very dangerous for India.  My individual problem is not a small one either. Without my contribution, you would not have PSLV, GSLV, Chandrayaan, Mars Mission, etc. They have caused me irreparable damage. But the biggest casualty has been the setback to ISRO and demoralization of its scientists.

 

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Madhu Purnima Kishwar

The author is National Professor, ICSSR & Founder Editor MANUSHI