The Man Who Won Justice For Nambi Narayanan
Advocate Chandran Pillai Unnikrishnan is the lawyer who won justice for the former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan from the Supreme Court of India. He is also the one who fought to get compensation for the fishermen killed by the Italian Marines aboard the Oil Tanker Enrika Lexie and the one who helped economically deprived, but meritorious candidate Ramya Krishnan to secure admission in a Chennai Medical College. A native of Kollam, Unnikrishnan is seasoned lawyer well versed in criminal, civil and corporate litigation, who has been practicing law for the past 25 years having handled cases from the lowest courts to the Supreme Court. In an exclusive interview with Kerala Travel Explorer he spoke to Editor Deepak N Nair on these cases that has accorded him a kind of celebrity status.
What made you to take up law as a career?
Actually, I had never dreamt of becoming a lawyer. My father was a doctor having his own small hospital at Anchalummood, Kollam. He wanted me also to become a doctor, but unfortunately I could not qualify for it after my predegree. So, I enrolled for B.Sc Chemistry at S. N. College, Kollam and after that, wanting to do a professional course, on the advice of friends and family, I joined for the 3 year LLB degree course at Law Academy, Thiruvananthapuram in 1990. And, thereafter having enrolled as a lawyer in 1994, I started practice at Kollam with late Advocate P. Vijayaraghavan, a veteran Lawyer, whose son Raja Vijyaraghavan - currently a Judge of Kerala High Court, was my classmate at Law Academy.
After one year of practice at Kollam courts, I shifted my practice to High Court of Kerala at Cochin, functioning from the office of my uncle - Advocate M. R. Rajendran Nair. There I got the training, like how one would get at a Gurukulam, as I was staying with him and practicing law for more than one year. He nurtured me and made me a complete lawyer in a short tenure for 4 years. I consider him as my perfect Guru and Mentor. From then onwards, I started loving my career and invested myself in the profession by working from early morning till late night, to serve litigants to the maximum.
What made you to take up the case of Nambi Narayanan?
Where you confident of winning the case? One day in 2012 one of my juniors, Advocate Jayakrishnan from Thiruvananthapuram called me and said that Nambi Narayanan wanted to entrust his case with me, which was long pending in the High Court. I was surprised and queried how he came to know about me. It was then Advocate Jayakrishnan revealed to me that Nambi Narayanan had been watching the case of Italian Vessel Enrica Lexie’s in media and he was very much impressed by the way I and my team including Advocate Jayakrishnan had conducted the case for the fishermen who were killed, and obtained Rs.1 crore compensation for the families in just a span of a couple of months.
However, I was apprehensive, since ISRO espionage case had started in 1994 when I had just enrolled as an advocate and as such I was not confident of the case being safe in my hands. So Jayakrishnan again discussed the same with Nambi Narayanan and informed me that Nambi Narayanan was confident and wanted to meet me to explain the facts.
I then met Nambi Narayanan who briefed me about the case, which was a long pending writ appeal filed by him against the judgment of single judge. The single judge in 2006 had set aside the order of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued in the year 2001, directing the State of Kerala to pay an immediate interim relief of Rs.10 lakhs to Nambi Narayanan. After setting aside the order, the case was sent back to NHRC to consider the question whether the complaint filed by Nambi Narayanan before NHRC was barred by time, or not.
Nambi Narayanan then made arrangements to hand over the case bundle to me from the office of Senior Advocate K. P. Dandapani, who was unable to conduct the case further due to his appointment as Advocate General with the Kerala Government. Since the case bundle was voluminous, Nambi Narayanan advised me to first go through 4 documents which were:
1. CBI Closure Report of the year 1996.
2. Supreme Court judgment of 1998 accepting CBI report.
3. NHRC order of the year 2001.
4. Open Letter issued by ISRO in 1996 signed by Sathish Dhawan, UR Rao, TN Seshan, Prof. Yashpal, R. Narasimha & S. Chandrasekhar.
In about a week, I went through these 4 documents and the Writ Appeal memorandum of the pending case. After going through the documents, I was shocked to learn that the former ISRO Scientist Nambi Narayanan who was a contributor of rocket technology to our nation was kept under police and judicial custody together for a period of 50 days and tortured, in a fabricated espionage case. And, even after one-and-a-half years of investigation by CBI, when he was exonerated, neither the State Government or Central Government apologised to him or gave him any compensation voluntarily.
All his requests for compensation were stoutly opposed by the State, causing him huge discomfiture. I was really anguished for weeks together, and finally decided to fight a legal battle for the true patriot and offered him all my legal services to get justice, free of cost. Though, he initially rejected my offer of free service, I could convince him that it was my endeavour to atone for the wrong done by this country to him and his innocent family.
Accordingly, we started discussing about the matter almost every day and after studying the case well, it was brought up before a division bench. But, the state government and the other respondents attempted to further delay the hearing. However, after some postings, due to my strenuous efforts, the court was ready for a final hearing. During this period, we discussed with each other over phone regularly, to firm up our strategy, to get the case posted for the final hearing.
It was my strong desire to show the entire world that here is a great scientist, and true patriot who made invaluable contributions his country and who was wrongly implicated and tortured in a fabricated espionage case and who after fighting several years to clear his name and integrity, got compensated.
The case was finally heard on 07/09/2012 and the court directed the Government of Kerala to pay Rs.10 lakhs to Nambi Narayanan in 3 weeks, and he finally received the amount in December 2012. Nambi Narayanan was very much happy because of the winning of that case in less than 3 months after entrusting it in my hands.
Thereafter, it came to the notice of Nambi Narayanan that the Government of Kerala had issued and order dated 29/06/2011, dropping all the actions against the investigating officers of Kerala Police in the ISRO espionage case. While submitting its closure report, the CBI in 1996 had concluded that the ‘ISRO espionage case’ registered by Kerala Police in 1994 was a false case, and had sent another report to the Government of Kerala recommending it to initiate appropriate action against the investigating officers of Kerala Police for their wrong doings.
Although, on the face of it, some initial proceedings were initiated by the Kerala government in 1996-1997, the file was kept in cold storage for more than 14 years and after dragging its feet for so long, finally on 29/06/2011, the government dropped the actions. On coming to know about that order, we challenged that order in the High Court in 2013 and finally on 20/10/2014, the government order was quashed and the court directed the government to take appropriate action against the involved Kerala Police officials.
The indicted officers then challenged the judgment before the division bench, which upheld the decision of Government of Kerala by setting aside the earlier high court judgment.
Aggrieved by that judgment, we filed Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court of India in 2015, which, after about 20 postings, was finally allowed in favour of Nambi Narayanan on 14/09/2018 directing the State of Kerala to pay Rs.50 lakhs compensation. Simultaneously, a committee under the chairmanship of retired Justice D.K. Jain was set up to find out ways and means to take appropriate steps against erring officials.
I was overjoyed due our winning the case in the Supreme Court, as it was my strong desire to show the entire world that here is a great scientist, and true patriot who made invaluable contributions his country and who was wrongly implicated and tortured in a fabricated espionage case and who after fighting several years to clear his name and integrity, got justice and compensation.
In fact, the cases of Nambi Narayanan and the Italian Vessel have given me immense mental satisfaction. No lawyer can be confident of winning a case, other than striving for a win by conducting the case dedicatedly. I also did the same.
Isn’t Rs.50 lacs compensation granted to Nambi Narayanan a little less, considering that the case dates back to the year 1994 ?
I agree it is less when compared to his status, contribution to the country and his sufferings. But, the point to be noted is that the amount of Rs.50 lakhs was granted by the Supreme Court without any demand from Nambi Narayanan. It was by exercising their discretion to do complete justice to him, the amount was granted by Supreme Court that permitted him to continue with the civil suit already filed by him in 1999 for compensation in the Sub Court, Thiruvanthapuram for Rs.1 crore, which is in the final stage. I am positive that case also will be allowed in his favour. According to me, he should have claimed at least Rs.10 crore in 1999.
Tell us about your role in fishermen Gelestine & Ajeesh Pink who were shot dead by Italian Marines aboard oil tanker Enrica Lexie.
I was entrusted with the case by two senior lawyers of the Kollam courts on the recommendation of Advocate M. A. Rasheed, who is the CEO of ‘Live Law’, a very prominent legal news portal in India.
The case filed on behalf of Doramma, the widow of Jelastine was an Admiralty suit for compensation for Rs.1 crore. Initially the High Court directed the ship owner to deposit Rs. 25 lacs. We filed appeal and the Division Bench raised the deposit to Rs. 3.25 crores and the same was deposited. This was because the compensation suit of Ajeesh Pink’s family also was filed through Advocate Syam Kumar, a shipping lawyer.
Thereafter, another bench of the High Court released the vessel on 26/02/2012 in a case filed by the ship owner. We were shocked at this development and Advocate Syam Kumar mentioned to me that unless the ship was detained for some more time, the out of court settlement of compensation would not happen. And, if we persisted with the suit, no court would grant a compensation for more than Rs. 5-10 lacs, since the compensation granted by Indian courts was usually based on the income of the deceased.
Therefore, we decided to file a third party writ appeal before the Division Bench on the next day i.e. 27/02/2012, which was a Friday. Unless an order staying the release was obtained from the Division Bench, the vessel would sail on Friday evening to Italy. The certified copy of the ship release judgment was obtained from the court at about 7.30 pm on Thursday and the next day morning I prepared the Writ Appeal and made a mention before the Division Bench that an urgent third party Writ Appeal is to be filed on that day and the same should be considered in the afternoon session itself. Then the court replied that in the afternoon session, another Division bench dealing with environmental matters was scheduled and therefore our writ appeal could be considered only on Monday. However, I apprised the court that by Monday the appeal would become infructuous because the vessel was scheduled for voyage on Friday evening and it was to prevent the voyage, we had filed the Writ Appeal. Then, the Judges had a discussion between themselves and declared that they will constitute the same bench at 3.30 pm to consider the appeal filed by us.
At 3.30 pm the Chief Justice court was jam packed and I reached in front of the court with difficulty. I started my arguments saying that the learned Single Bench had no jurisdiction to release the vessel when the Chief Judicial Magistrate was seized with the criminal case registered by the Neendakara Police and the police had symbolically arrested the vessel and produced it in the CJM court, Kollam. Once the court was seized with the case, the remedy open to the ship owner was to approach the court and file an application for interim custody. I had referred to two judgments of the Bombay High Court and Kerala High Court. Immediately, the court stayed the judgment of the Single Bench and posted the matter for Monday. When I came out from the court hall, Advocate Syam Kumar approached me and congratulated by saying, had I not filed the writ appeal with that valid point, the ship would have resumed its voyage and no benefit could be given to the bereaved families.
The cases of Nambi Narayanan and the Italian Vessel have given me immense mental satisfaction. No lawyer can be confident of winning a case. He can strive for a win by conducting the case dedicatedly. I also did the same.
Finally, the on the following Monday a detailed hearing took place and the judgment of the single bench was set aside by the division bench. Following this development, within one week, the Italian Government representatives flew down to Kollam to meet me and expressed their readiness for an out of the court settlement. Accordingly, we settled both the compensation cases for Rs.1 crore each for the two fishermen and the Boat Owner’s claim for Rs. 17 lacs. In fact, that was an eye opener for all the courts in India enabling to grant higher compensations in death and accident cases.
Which have the most memorable and cherished cases taken up by you in your 25 year old career? Apart from the case of Nambi Narayanan and the case against Italian Vessel ‘Enrica Lexie’, there are so many cases which have given me mental satisfaction. One which comes to my mind now is of a girl Ramya Krishnan who came to me complaining that her application for admission to MBBS in ESI Medical College under ‘ward of insured’ quota was rejected by ESI Corporation despite her rank of 10334 in All India Medical Entrance, on the ground there was 3 days short of payment of ESI contribution by her father, who was an employee of Cashew Corporation.
In the writ petition filed in the High Court, the court directed ESI Medical College, Chennai to give her MBBS admission in the college, wherein one student had not joined and that seat was lapsed, considering the fact that the last student admitted was having an All India Rank of 3.75 lacs and the highly meritorious Ramya was denied admission.
But, instead of complying with the direction of the court, ESI Medical College filed an appeal, which was allowed by the division bench. As Ramya Krishnan was not having financial capability to approach the Supreme Court, she was mentally depressed.
Upon hearing about the same, I contacted my close friend Advocate P.V. Dinesh practicing in Supreme Court and narrated the facts and requested him to file appeal without charging any fees. He readily agreed filed the case and finally the Supreme Court set aside the Division Bench judgment and directed the ESI Medical College and Medical Council of India to admit the girl Ramya Krishnan in the lapsed seat in the Chennai ESI Medical College. Accordingly she was admitted for MBBS course after about 5 months and she is now in her final year MBBS.
My favourite travel destination in Kerala is Vagamon, which is a less explored land and very calm. It is a real hideaway if anybody wants to escape from the daily busy schedule and professional tensions. Next favorite destination is Wayanad, wherein Muthanga Wild life sanctuary and Kruva Dweep are nice places I have stayed at
Tell us about your family.
My wife Deepa is a Higher Secondary Teacher in English at NSS HSS, Panavally. While I concentrate on my profession and my wife looks after her career as well as our home, including the studies of our 2 daughters Janaki Krishna and Meenakshi Krishna. Janaki is now doing her 2nd year B.Tech Electrical at TKM College of Engineering, Kollam and Meenakshi is preparing for NEET medical admission entrance at Brilliant Pala. My Fatherin–Law late Pazhavoor Gopalakrishna Pillai and Mother-in-law Sreedevi Amma were looking after our daughters and moulding their behaviour and values of life. My father Dr.G. Chandran Pillai and my mother Vijayamma passed away long back.
Who are your role models?
My role models are 3 versatile personalities. First one is my own father, Dr. G. Chandran Pillai who was a very good doctor in Anchalummod, Kollam having his own hospital during 1974 to 1988, till he expired. He was very kind towards all. He used to help financially poor students and used to give free treatments to poor patients. I learned all goodness from him.
Second one is my Guru, Mentor and Senior Advocate M. R. Rajendran Nair, who is my late mother’s first cousin and my uncle. I learnt from him the art of drafting, arguing, research and to approach a case from a different perspective, apart from the values such as honesty, integrity, respect to courts, opposing lawyers, responsibility towards case and clients etc. Third one is my client Scientist Nambi Narayanan, from whom I learnt how to analyse each and every issue.
Which are your favorite travel destinations within Kerala ?
What do you like about these places? My favourite travel destination in Kerala is Vagamon, which is a less explored land and very calm. It is a real hideaway if anybody wants to escape from the daily busy schedule and professional tensions. Next favorite destination is Wayanad, wherein Muthanga Wild life sanctuary and Kruva Dweep are nice places I have stayed at.
Which is your favorite travel destination abroad? Why ?
I like Singapore, Thailand and Dubai. I like Singapore because of its cleanliness and perfect implementation of law and systems. Thailand is favourite because of their humble behavior and hospitality. Dubai is favorite because I never felt that it is a foreign country because everywhere there are malayalees and we get all Kerala foods in Dubai.
With Kerala having 4 International Airports, what do you think needs to be done to improve the potential of Kerala Tourism further?
First of all entire people of Kerala should change their attitude towards tourists. Consider tourists as our guests and help them by guiding them properly. We have to promote cleanliness. The governmental authorities and the people of Kerala should uphold the mantra “Atithi Devo Bhava “.