The Supreme Court will set up a committee to inquire into the Pegasus snooping row, Chief Justice NV Ramana said Thursday morning, adding that interim orders would likely be issued next week.
The Chief Justice was hearing another matter when he told one of the lawyers – who also represents one of the Pegasus petitioners – of this development.
“We wanted to pass an order on the matter before this week… but some members we thought of considering for the (expert) committee… for personal reasons they declined to be part of this committee. Hence the delay,” he said.
“We will try to pass an order on Pegasus next week,” he added.
The top court has been hearing a clutch of petitions demanding an inquiry into allegations that an Indian client of the Israeli spyware used it for illegal surveillance of electronic devices.
The allegations were made via reports from an international consortium of media publications, which included The Wire from India.
Reports by The Wire claimed the phone numbers of over 300 opposition leaders, journalists and others – including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, and industrialist Anil Ambani – were on a list of potential targets.
The government has denied the allegations; shortly after the storm broke IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, whose number was on that list (before he joined the BJP), told Parliament “checks and balances” in India’s judicial and executive systems precluded such illegal activities.
The government also turned down requests for an independent probe into the allegations.
On September 13 the bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana that was hearing petitions for an inquiry reserved its orders. This was after the government said “it had nothing to hide” but cited “national security” to say it would not file a detailed affidavit on the matter.
“Filing (an affidavit) and making it (the question of whether the Indian government uses Pegasus) public discourse is not possible (as it) will affect national security… We cannot let terrorists know what software is used…” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court.
An unimpressed and irked Chief Justice reminded Mr Mehta “… we don’t want to know about national security. The issue is… we have citizens saying their phones were tapped.”
“Last time also… we clarified nobody… is going to intervene in a way that affects national security…” Justice Surya Kant, also on the bench, said, adding, “… there are claims of individual phones being hacked. Which agency has powers and is it authorised?”
“We have to do something… Mr Mehta, beating about the bush will not solve the issue. Let us see what order we have to pass,” the Chief Justice said.