Pegasus: SC refuses stay on West Bengal government's inquiry panel
The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused a stay on the notification issued by the West Bengal government regarding the constitution of an inquiry commission to probe the alleged Pegasus snooping scandal. The petitioner challenged the inquiry commission on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction. However, the SC issued notices to the Centre and the West Bengal government seeking their responses on the plea.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the inquiry commission is "unconstitutional." Advocate Saurav Mishra—representing the petitioner, Global Village Foundation Public Trust—said since the SC is contemplating a pan-India inquiry, a state committee should not be allowed. Mishra also sought a stay on further proceedings of the inquiry committee. The SC turned down the prayer, saying, "That is only a preliminary exercise."
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana suggested the plea be listed with other writ petitions on the Pegasus scandal. The court listed the matter for further hearing on August 25. However, the court pointed out the inconsistency in the plea. "You say you want an inquiry, then you say the committee is unconstitutional. In an affidavit, you must be consistent."
Last month, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had ordered a formal investigation into the Pegasus snooping scandal in the state. Banerjee set up an inquiry committee, headed by retired SC judge Justice MB Lokur and Justice Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, to look into the snooping allegations. The development had come days after Banerjee's nephew, MP Abhishek Banerjee, was identified as a potential Pegasus surveillance target.
To inquire into whether any incidents of reported interception have occurred. To inquire into the spyware used to effectuate such reported interception along with the role of other authorities/state/non-state actors in such interception. To inquire into the events leading to the occurrence of the incidents of interception of individuals and the information that has been collected, altered, stored pertaining to such interception.
The SC on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the Pegasus scandal. The SC asserted the government should reply to the allegations, and said it would wait for the Centre's response to decide on the formation of a committee to investigate the allegations. However, the Centre argued against disclosing the details citing national security concerns.
Pegasus is a military-level spyware—developed by the Israeli company NSO Group—which is only made available to vetted government clients. It had made headlines in 2019 for its reported use by various governments to track individuals. In July, a global consortium of media houses revealed the names of 50,000 potential surveillance targets, including 300 Indians citizens such as journalists, Opposition leaders, ministers, activists, among others.