The Centre had refused to file an affidavit confirming whether Pegasus spyware was actually used. On Monday, the Supreme Court reserved its order for a series of petitions requesting independent investigation into the alleged Pegasus spying case.
The Centre was informed by a bench that included Justice Surya Kant, Hima Kohli and Cheif Justice N.V. Ramana. They said they will issue an interim order within the next few days.
“Beating around with the bush…we’ll pass an interim order,” Solicitor General Tushar Mahta, representing Centre, said to the chief justice.
After taking two minutes to decide whether or not it would file a detailed statement, the Centre informed the bench it was not going to file an affidavit on a series of petitions requesting inquiry into the alleged use by spyware Pegasus.
Mehta suggested that the government could create a technical committee of domain experts who are independent from the government. These experts can review petitioners’ claims that their phones were damaged by Pegasus. Centre stated that this committee could submit its report to court.
The court pointed out the reply of the former Minister for Electronics and Information Technology to Parliament in 2019. Mehta emphasized a recent statement by the Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology of India to clarify the government’s position.
A number of senior advocates, including Kapil Sibal and Dinesh Daivedi, Shyam Dwivedi and Shyam Dwivedi, represented various petitioners who objected the Centre’s position on the matter.
Sibal represented N. Ram, a veteran journalist. He said that the government should clarify whether Pegasus was used. Sibal said that it was unbelievable that the government would not disclose to the court the use of spyware.
“We believed that the government would file a counter-affidavit. During the hearing, the bench stated that they were considering an interim order or another order and needed to pass.
Divan argued that a detailed affidavit should have been filed at the cabinet secretary’s level. Divan stated that it should concern the government if the spyware was used by an outside agency and that if the agency were a government agency it would be unconstitutional.
Rakesh Dwivedi, a senior advocate, questioned the credibility and independence of the expert panel established by the government to investigate the matter.
Mehta stated, “Nobody denies or disputes.” There are delicate issues at play. It is important to get to the root issue. Let the experts panel tackle it.” The Chief Justice stated that the court does not want the government to disclose any information that could compromise the national security. The court noted that the government could file an affidavit to know “where we stand on this subject”.
Colin Gonsalves, a senior advocate, said that a retired judge or sitting judge on the Supreme Court should lead the probe. The government, which is an intruder, cannot be relied on with the investigation.