Centre Denies Detailed Affidavit in Pegasus Row; “Beating around the bush” says SC

"Beating around the bush...we will pass some interim order," the chief justice told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre.

New Delhi: After the Centre’s denial to file a detailed affidavit clarifying whether Pegasus spyware was used or not, the Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order on a batch of petitions seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping case.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said the court will pass an interim order in the next few days and told the Centre that beating around the bush would not take the issue anywhere.

“Beating around the bush…we will pass some interim order,” the chief justice told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre.

The Centre informed the bench that it is not going to file a detailed affidavit, after taking time twice to take a decision, whether it will file an affidavit or not on a batch of petitions seeking an inquiry into the alleged use of spyware Pegasus.

Mehta submitted that government can constitute a technical committee of independent domain experts, who can examine the petitioners’ allegations that their phones were affected by Pegasus. The Centre said this committee can submit its report to the top court.

The top court pointed at the response of former Minister for Electronics and Information Technology in Parliament in 2019. However, Mehta highlighted a recent statement made by Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology of India on the floor of the Parliament clarifying the government’s stand.

A battery of senior advocates — Kapil Sibal, Rakesh Dwivedi, Dinesh Dwivedi, Shyam Divan and Meenakshi Arora –representing various petitioners objected to the Centre’s stand on the matter.

Sibal, representing veteran journalist N. Ram, said the government should clarify whether it used Pegasus or not? Sibal added that it is unbelievable that the government said it would not tell the court about the use of spyware.

“We thought the government will file a counter-affidavit. We are considering some interim order or some other order, we have to pass,” the bench noted during the hearing.

Divan contended that a detailed affidavit should be filed at the level of cabinet secretary. He further added that the government should be concerned if an external agency used the spyware and if it were a government agency, then it was absolutely unconstitutional.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi questioned the credibility of the expert panel formed by the government to examine the issue.

Mehta submitted, “Nobody is denying or disputing. There are sensitive issues involved. We must get to the core issue. Let the expert panel go into it.”

The Chief Justice clarified that the court is also not keen on government disclosing any information which compromises national security. The bench noted that if government were to file an affidavit, then it would have known “where do we stand on the subject”. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said a retired or sitting judge of the Supreme Court should head the probe, and the government, which is a wrongdoer, cannot be relied upon with the investigation.

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