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Pegasus snooping row: Bengal assures SC that Lokur panel will not proceed for time being

The State government in its affidavit has called the Union government "non-committal and evasive" while justifying the setting up of a two-member Commission of Inquiry.

Published: 25th August 2021 03:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th August 2021 03:45 PM   |  A+A-

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. (File Photo | PTI)

By ANI

NEW DELHI: The West Bengal government on Wednesday assured the Supreme Court that a two-member Inquiry Commission headed by a former top court judge, Justice Madan B Lokur to investigate into allegation relating to Pegasus Spyware snooping case, will not go ahead with the inquiry till the court hears the bunch of pleas on the issue.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana tagged the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the Commission of Inquiry by the West Bengal government with other pleas pending before the top court on Pegasus controversy and said that it will be taken up together next week.

"Please maintain restraint as we are already hearing the Pegasus matter", the Bench told Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for the West Bengal government.

The top court said, "Aspresent issue is connected to other issues, in all fairness we expect you can wait. We will hear about the matter sometime next week. Those matters (pleas seeking inquiry on alleged used of Pegasus spyware by the government) are likely to have pan India impact..."

The Bench said that next week it would pass a comprehensive order, in the meantime, if the state government started an inquiry, then it would have to pass an order.

Singhvi said that he will convey it to the government and Commission and nothing would happen in one week or two weeks.

"Nothing will happen in the meantime. Please don't make an observation, that is all," Singhvi said.

Senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for petitioner NGO Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust told the Bench that there can not be two parallel inquiries.

Meanwhile, the State government in its affidavit has called the Union government "non-committal and evasive" while justifying the setting up of a two-member Commission of Inquiry.

The West Bengal said that the commission it constituted will "put into place effective countermeasures against any rogue foreign spyware".

The West Bengal government also questioned the motive behind the plea, claiming that the trustee and chairman of the NGO had close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate, Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

The Pegasus controversy is indeed a matter of public importance affecting public order and therefore, the state government had the jurisdiction to constitute the commission to restore public confidence in the people of West Bengal and to ensure that no unauthorised interception through rogue foreign spyware can occur in the state, added the affidavit.

In the earlier hearing, the top court had refused to stay the proceedings of the committee.

The PIL filed by the NGO sought direction to disband the two-member Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Madan B Lokur and also comprising former Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Justice (retired) Jyotirmay Bhattacharya by the State government to probe the allegations of snooping by Pegasus software developed by Israeli spyware firm NSO.

It sought to stay on the proceedings of the Commission stating that proceedings before the committee should not go on when the issue is being examined at a pan-India level.

There are several pleas pending before the apex court seeking a court-monitored probe into the reports of the government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, court staff, and journalists. It also issued notice to the government on the pleas.

The Centre has apprised the top court that it has decided to constitute a Committee of Experts which will examine all the issues relating to the alleged Pegasus snooping issue.

The Centre also denied all the allegations of snooping on journalists, politicians, activists and court staff and maintained the petitions are based on conjectures and there is no substance in the accusations.

The top court had earlier observed that the allegations about the Central government allegedly using Israeli software Pegasus to spy on people "are serious if news reports are correct".

As many as eleven pleas were filed before the top court by senior journalists N Ram, and Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas of Communist Marxist Party of India (Marxist) and advocate ML Sharma, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya.

Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Shatakshi, who are reported to be on the potential list of snoop targets of Pegasus spyware, had also approached the top court along with The Editors Guild of India (EGI) among others.

The pleas sought inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of the top court to investigate the alleged snooping.



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