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Pegasus row: SC says ‘can’t compel’ Centre to file detailed affidavit; govt to set up probe panel

The government also claimed that the petitions seeking an independent probe into the snooping allegations are based on "conjectures, surmises" and unsubstantiated media reports.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 16, 2021 10:56:42 pm
NSUI protest against the Pegasus snooping issue outside their office, in New Delhi, on Monday, August 02, 2021. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

The Supreme Court on Monday said it cannot compel the “reluctant” Centre to file a detailed affidavit on petitions seeking to know if Pegasus spyware was used to snoop on certain citizens and steps it took to probe the allegations.

The Centre, while denying all claims linked to recent reports that the Israeli Pegasus spyware was used to target opposition leaders, journalists and others, informed the apex court that a group of experts will be investigating into all such claims.

The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana would on Tuesday deliberate on whether the Centre should file a detailed affidavit in the matter, after the short one in which it submitted on Monday that the petitions seeking an independent probe into the snooping allegations are based on “conjectures, surmises” and unsubstantiated media reports. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the matter, if gone into on the basis of unsubstantiated reports, may have “national security implications” and it cannot be managed by asking to furnish an affidavit etc.

In a two-page affidavit filed by the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the Centre stated: “A bare perusal of the captioned petition and other connected petitions makes it clear that the same are based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material.”

“To dispel any wrong narrative spread by vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, we will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go in to all aspects of the issue,” it added.

The affidavit further stated: “At the outset, it is submitted that I hereby unequivocally deny any and all of the allegations made against the Respondents in the captioned petition and other connected petitions.”

It said that due to the limited time, it was not possible to deal with all the facts stated and the questions raised in the batch of petitions before the apex Court and hence, filed a limited affidavit at this stage while reserving liberty to file further affidavit in detail hereafter.

“It is submitted that this question stands already clarified on the floor of the Parliament by the Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology of India, Government of India,” the affidavit read, adding, “in that view of the matter, in the respectful submission of the deponent, nothing further needs to be done at the behest of the Petitioner, more particularly when they have not made out any case”.

The Supreme Court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the allegations of surveillance through the use of Pegasus spyware.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for petitioners N Ram and Sashi Kumar, however said the affidavit filed by the Centre does not say whether the government or its agencies had used the spyware. He also expressed dissatisfaction over government forming its own committee to probe allegations against it. “We do not want the government, which might have used Pegasus or its agency might have used it, to set up a committee on its own,” Sibal said.

Earlier, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, while hearing the matter, had described the allegations as “serious” but wondered as to why no FIR had been filed to date if there was evidence to show that the phones had been hacked.

“You all know that there is a prima facie material, as well as credibility of reports, on the basis of which we can order an inquiry etc. Unfortunately, from what I read from the writs, this matter came to light in May 2019. I don’t know if any effort was made. Persons who have filed the writ petitions are knowledgeable persons having resources. They should have made more effort to bring forth more material… Some of the petitioners who have filed the pleas are not affected and some claim their phones are hacked. But they have not made efforts to file a criminal complaint,” the CJI had said.

Will the offender investigate himself: Cong on Centre’s affidavit in SC in Pegasus case

The Congress on Monday asked whether “the offender will investigate himself” and sought reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on whether the Pegasus spyware was bought or not. Reacting to the development in the SC, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted, “Mr. ‘SNOOP-BOND’, Pl tell the Nation this much – Did you or not buy Pegasus Spyware? How does it impact ‘National Security’?”

“Mr. ‘SNOOPING-BOND’, Spying on Opposition, Spying on Judges, Spying on CBI Chief, Spying on Journalists, Spying on Union Min., Spying on Lawyers, Spying on Ex PM, Ex CM’s…How is this ‘National Security’? Can’t pull wool over the ‘truth’!” he said in another tweet, using the hashtag ‘PegasusSnoopingScandal’.

When asked about the development at a press meet, Surjewala said, “How can the cat guard the milk? Does the respected Supreme Court not know that only those who spied will investigate now? Will the offender investigate himself?” he asked.

–With inputs from PTI

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