Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi on Friday described the Pegasus spyware controversy as a “totally non-serious issue” as he criticised the Opposition for disrupting the Monsoon Session over it, ANI reported.
MPs staged protests against the alleged use of Israeli software Pegasus by central agencies to spy on Opposition leaders, journalists and activists in the country. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions saw multiple disruptions before being adjourned till Monday.
During the session on Friday, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, repeated the party’s demand for a parliamentary discussion on the matter, The Hindu reported.
“We have been have been asking for a discussion on Pegasus issue since day one, but the government does not intend to do so,” he said. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla did not allow him to speak further.
As Opposition MPs began shouting slogans once the Question Hour began, Joshi criticised their behaviour.
“More than 315 members want the Question Hour,” he said, according to ANI. “Despite that, behaving like this, it’s more unfortunate. IT minister [Ashwini Vaishnaw] has given detailed statement [on Pegasus] in both the Houses. This is totally non-serious issue. Kindly allow the House to function.”
Joshi added that there were many “people-related matters” that need to be discussed in Parliament. “Government doesn’t want to pass the Bills without discussions,” he said. “We are ready for discussion but they [the Opposition] are not allowing it.”
The alleged misuse of Pegasus came to light earlier this month when Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed a database featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”.
They shared the list with Indian news website The Wire and 16 other media organisations across the world, who did extensive reporting on the matter. Their investigation is called the Pegasus Project
The India list features over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa and a former Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment. Industrialist Anil Ambani and former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma were also potential targets of surveillance.
The participants in the Pegasus investigation have repeatedly clarified that not all the people on the list were successfully spied on but were potential targets of surveillance. Only a forensic analysis of a device can determine if it was infiltrated or subjected to a hack.
Earlier on Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition seeking an independent inquiry into the allegations of surveillance. The plea was filed by former editor of The Hindu N Ram and chairperson of the Asian College of Journalism Sashi Kumar.
Two Bills passed in Parliament
Amid Opposition protests, the government on Friday tabled two important Bills related to divestment of the insurance sector and air pollution in the National Capital Region.
General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill, 2021, is considered to be a step towards the privatisation of state-run insurance companies, the Hindustan Times reported. Several Opposition MPs opposed the bill.
Meanwhile, the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill seeks to set up a statutory body to combat air pollution.