NEW DELHI: The Centre on Monday proposed to set up an expert panel to go into the entire gamut of Pegasus snoopgate, while declining to give a clear yes or no answer to the question on whether it has procured the spyware, citing security concerns.
In a two-page affidavit filed before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, the Union information and technology ministry said the petitions demanding a court-monitored probe into the matter are based on conjectures, surmises and unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material. The proposed probe committee, it added, would dispel the wrong narratives spread by vested interests.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said any discussion or debate on these issues would involve national security. When the bench suggested that the Centre should file a detailed affidavit in the matter, Mehta said, “if your lordships are convinced that this needs to be gone into, then there would be issues of national security.” He, however, said the Centre had nothing to hide.
Pressed further, Mehta said, “Will they (petitioners) take their pleas back if I file a detailed affidavit. This is a question I ask myself.” Rebutting the bench’s observation that “you do not want to take a stand,” Mehta argued that the Centre has already taken its stand in Parliament. The court deferred the hearing for Tuesday while asking Mehta to inform whether he wants to revisit his decision.
On the proposed expert committee, the bench asked as to how a technical committee would check what authorisations were given for use of the spyware; if it was used at all; and who issued permission and the sanction to procure it.
Mehta said the court can invoke its extraordinary power to lay down a mandate for it. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for veteran journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, told the bench, “If the government admits to having used Pegasus then they cannot be allowed to set up the committee. And, if they have not, then the question of having a committee does not arise and our line of argument will also change.”