Govt denies Pegasus charge, says SC can appoint expert panel to probe row | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: The government on Monday denied allegations levelled against it in the Pegasus controversy and said it is open to the Supreme Court appointing a technical committee, comprising neutral and independent experts, to inquire into all aspects of the case — whether the spyware was purchased by the Centre, and, if so, which of its agencies used it and for what purpose.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta made this offer on behalf of the Union government to a bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose shortly after senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for some of the 10 PIL petitioners, dismissed the Centre’s two-page affidavit denying illegal snooping as an eyewash.
The bench said a technical committee has certain limitations as it can go into the issue — whether the phones were infiltrated by Pegasus but no further. “How will a technical committee examine whether permissions by authorities were given for interception of telephones, whether procedures established by law were adhered to or not and who purchased the software? Experts can go into the angle of whether a particular software was used or not in the phones. Other issues about permissions and sanctions, procurement, which agencies did this, private or state, has to be examined by somebody. Who will examine that,” it asked.
Mehta responded, saying, “The committee can be authorised by the Supreme Court to go into all issues. The government has nothing to hide. The committee can comprise neutral and independent experts and authorised by the court to go into all issues. The government has no difficulty in agreeing to this. The Supreme Court using its powers under Article 32 of the Constitution can decide whatever will be the terms of reference for the committee. The committee then will be carrying the mandate from the Supreme Court to go into all issues.”
Earlier in the day, the Centre filed an affidavit by an additional secretary, in the ministry of electronics and information technology, who “unequivocally denied” the allegations made in the PILs and said, “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. It is submitted that the same cannot be the basis for invoking the writ jurisdiction of the SC.”
The affidavit said, “With a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, the Union government will constitute a Committee of Experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue.”
At the outset, Justice Bose clarified that he had social interaction with two of the petitioners, including journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and wanted to know whether anyone had objections to him being part of the bench hearing the issue. Mehta said if at all anyone could have an objection, it would be the Union government, which in this case did not have any reservations.
Referring to the Centre’s affidavit, Sibal, appearing for journalist N Ram and Sashi Kumar, termed it an eyewash and said the government revealed nothing as also its minister in Parliament. “There is an admission from the government in 2019 on the floor of Parliament that it was aware of 121 Indians being snooped upon through the use of Pegasus. What did they do? Did they lodge an FIR? Did they take the matter with Israel or started an inquiry as is being done by the USA and France? The government has to come clean on this,” he said.
Sibal said, “The government needs to answer simple questions which would not touch upon national security concerns as feared by the solicitor general. The government can answer whether it purchased Pegasus, for what price; which of its agencies used it and for what purpose. Once the government gives this answer through an affidavit filed either by the home secretary or the cabinet secretary, things would become clear. In reality, the government is answering none of these questions through its short affidavit.”
The SG challenged the petitioners by saying, “If the government files an affidavit saying that it has nothing to do with Pegasus, will the petitioners be satisfied and withdraw their PILs? I know they will not. The purpose of filing these PILs is not to find facts but to gain traction in some other area. If the government files a reply saying it has nothing to do with Pegasus, then they will want an inquiry into the truthfulness of the government statement. So why not have a technical expert committee mandated by the SC to go into all the issues raised by petitioners to arrive at the facts in the case?”
The CJI-led bench asked the SG to think over in the next 24 hours whether the government would like to file a detailed affidavit and inform the court accordingly. It posted the matter for further hearing on Tuesday.

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