The Supreme Court today said that an affidavit filed by the Centre on the issue relating to alleged snooping by the government has not satisfied allegations whether or not Pegasus spyware was used and asked whether it will file an additional affidavit.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana posted for tomorrow the hearing on a batch of pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into reports of the government allegedly using Israeli spyware Pegasus to spy on politicians, activists, court staff, and journalists.
“We will continue tomorrow. If you have a change of mind, let us know tomorrow. If Tushar Mehta may decide to file an affidavit, then we have nothing to say, else we will hear all of you,” said Chief Justice Ramana, while adding that it cannot compel the centre to file an affidavit if it is “reluctant”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the centre, said that the issue involved aspects of national security and was not simple enough to be addressed through affidavits.
Mr Mehta asked if the petitioners will withdraw petitions seeking an independent probe into the issue if the government files an affidavit denying using Pegasus.
“We are dealing with a sensitive matter but an attempt is being made to make this sensational. This matter will have national security implications. This matter cannot be handled like furnish an affidavit etc. Minister concerned with this department has given details as to how the Pegasus issue has been raging fire over the past few years. The placing of facts will involve national security issues,” Mr Mehta told the bench.
During the hearing, the petitioners’ lawyers repeatedly told the bench that the central government has evaded answering the question if it or any of its agencies have ever used the spyware and urged the court to direct the government to come clean.
Earlier in the day, the central government filed an affidavit and apprised the top court that it has decided to constitute a Committee of Experts which will examine the issue.
The centre also denied all the allegations of snooping and maintained that the petitions are based on conjectures and there is no substance in the accusations.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in its affidavit, “It is submitted that with a view to dispelling any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, the Union of India will constitute a Committee of Experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue.”
At the outset of the hearing, Solicitor General Mehta said the centre is denying all the allegations and there is nothing to hide or that needs examination. He said a neutral body of persons and experts will be appointed to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, Mr Mehta added.
Mr Mehta said if the court approves, the committee can be constituted of independent neutral experts and not government officers; he said a committee may be formed and terms of reference can be laid down by the court.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, took objection to the “limited affidavit” filed by the centre and said the government has to state on oath that they have never used Pegasus spyware.
“The government of India must state on oath if they or their agencies have ever used Pegasus. This fact has to be either denied or accepted. That is not done in the affidavit filed by the centre. This affidavit does not answer the issues raised by the petitioners,” Mr Sibal said, adding that the government has made a sweeping denial of the petitions in generic terms.
Mr Sibal said that the issue was not about individuals but about “institutions” and it is the judiciary and the media which protect democracy and both have been attacked by Pegasus.
Mr Sibal said, “France has started a national level investigation through court procedures, Israel is also conducting the enquiry, but the Indian government says all is fine. This is wholly unacceptable.”