Updated: August 5, 2021 7:04:19 am
A Rajasthan-based cellphone number that was earlier registered in former Supreme Court judge Justice Arun Mishra’s name was added to the list of potential targets of an alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware in 2019, The Wire reported on Wednesday.
While Justice Mishra was a sitting SC Judge at that time — he retired on September 3, 2020 — the report quoted him as saying that he had surrendered the cellphone number “on April 21, 2014”.
“The number +9194XXXXXXX is not with me since 2013-2014. I don’t use this number,” Justice Mishra, who is now the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairperson, told The Wire. According to the report, Justice Mishra said he had “surrendered the number on April 21, 2014”.
The report is part of a global investigation by 17 media organisations drawing on data accessed by Paris-based Forbidden Stories.
In 2014, Justice Mishra’s appointment was among the first cleared by the BJP-led government after it came to power at the Centre. Justice Mishra had earlier served as Chief Justice of the Rajasthan and Calcutta high courts.
At the Supreme Court, Justice Mishra heard several important cases, including the Sahara-Birla diaries, Haren Pandya murder case, medical college bribery case, amendments to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the matter related to the turf war that broke out between two senior officers over the CBI leadership.
In January 2018, Justice Mishra was in the eye of the storm when four senior Supreme Court Judges at the time — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, J Chelameswar and Kurien Joseph — questioned the allocation of cases by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
“It is an issue of an assignment of a case which is an issue raised in court,” Justice Gogoi had said. Asked if it was about the petitions seeking a probe into the death of special CBI Judge B H Loya, he had replied in the affirmative. The Loya case was initially assigned to a bench headed by Justice Mishra but following the controversy, was heard by a bench headed by the CJI himself.
Apart from Justice Mishra, The Wire said two former officials of the Supreme Court registry, N K Gandhi and T I Rajput, and lawyers involved in politically sensitive cases were also potential targets of surveillance. The report said the numbers registered in the names of Gandhi and Rajput were added “sometime in the spring of 2019.”
Two numbers belonging to well-known Delhi-based criminal lawyer Vijay Agarwal and his wife were added to the database in early 2018, the report said. Agarwal’s clientele includes fugitive jeweller Nirav Modi.
Another number on the leaked database belongs to M Thangathurai, a junior lawyer and aide of former Attorney General for India Mukul Rohatgi, the report said.
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