Pegasus controversy: Will set up a technical committee, Center tells SC
The Modi Government on Monday expressed its willingness to constitute a “committee of eminent experts” to examine all the aspects of Pegasus snooping controversy-related issues, saying the matter is a “highly technical issue” which needs expertise. However, the petitioners object to the Government’s affidavit and said that it has not answered the basic question of whether the Government purchased Pegasus spyware or not. The bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta countered that any discussion or debate on these issues would involve the aspect of national security and termed the matter as sensitive.
The bench said it is not saying anything against the Government but there are issues about areas in which the committee cannot go into. Mehta said the apex court may lay down the terms and references of the committee. “We are dealing with a sensitive matter and the attempt appears to be to make it sensational,” he said.
Sibal argued that the Centre should file an affidavit and state on oath whether the government or its agencies have used Pegasus.
The bench, also comprising justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, deliberated upon the aspect of whether the Centre, which filed a short-limited affidavit, should file a detailed affidavit in the matter. The Court has given 24 hours time to the Centre to decide on filing an extended affidavit. The arguments will continue on Tuesday.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for veteran journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar who have filed one of the petitions in the matter, said the Centre should clearly state whether the government or their agencies have used Pegasus and there would not be any issue of national security in this. The bench told Sibal that it cannot compel anyone to file the affidavit. Mehta said the Government will appoint neutral eminent experts from the field and they would examine it and place it before the top court. “I do not think the government can be more transparent and fair than this,” he said, adding that response given by the IT minister in the Parliament on the issue deals with every aspect.
Sibal argued that the Centre should file an affidavit and state on oath whether the government or its agencies have used Pegasus. He said the limited affidavit filed by the Centre in the matter does not answer the issues raised by them. “The matter, in my respectful submissions as an officer of the Court and not as the one representing the government, cannot be as simple that you file affidavit whether Pegasus was used or not or whether it was purchased or not,” Mehta said.
“This is an issue where any answer, any discussion, any debate, and any facts being placed would necessarily involve a kind of national security concern,” he added. During the over one-hour-long hearing, Mehta told the bench that petitioners have relied on reports published by a web portal. “According to us, a false narrative is created,” he said, adding, “There is nothing to hide. Kindly appreciate the bona fide gesture of the government.”
Mehta said there are official interceptions also which take place as per the law and rules provided therein and there is a proper system in place for that. While saying that it would continue hearing arguments in the matter on Tuesday, the bench told Mehta, “If you have any change in your mind, you tell us tomorrow.”
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for one of the petitioners, said the Centre’s submission that it would set up a committee of experts would not inspire confidence in the minds of people and instead, the court should appoint a panel and supervise it. Sibal also raised objection over the affidavit filed by the Centre which has said that petitions filed in the matter are based on “conjectures and surmises” or on other unsubstantiated media reports.
“A bare perusal of the captioned petition and other connected petitions makes it clear that the same is based on conjectures and surmises or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material,” the affidavit said, adding that the issue has been clarified in Parliament by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
Editors Guild of India has sought in its plea that a special investigation team to be set up to conduct a probe into reported surveillance of journalists and others.
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