The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre and the West Bengal government in connection with a petition challenging the setting up of a commission by the state government to investigate the Pegasus surveillance allegations, Live Law reported.
There are allegations that the central government used the Pegasus spyware to monitor journalists, political leaders, human rights activists in the country.
The West Bengal government set up the committee, which comprises retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, on July 26. On August 5, the commission had issued notices in newspapers seeking information from the public and stakeholders in connection with the Pegasus surveillance allegations, according to Live Law.
Advocate Saurabh Mishra, appearing for the petitioner Global Village Foundation Public Trust, on Wednesday contended before the court that the state government did not have the jurisdiction to set up such a committee.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana refused to stay the notification setting up the panel. However, the court issued notices to the Centre, the Union ministries of Information and Broadcasting, and Electronics and Information Technology; and the West Bengal government.
The court said it will hear the plea along with other petitions pertaining to the surveillance allegations.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that he was willing to assist it in the case, Bar and Bench reported. He added that such a committee was unconstitutional in his opinion.
The court will hear the matter next on August 25.
The surveillance allegations pertain to a leaked list, featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers, that was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The organisations shared the list with 17 news outlets as part of the Pegasus Project.
According to the Wire, which focused on the Indian portion of the list, “the numbers of those in the database include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons”.
The Wire has reported that Trinamool Congress MP and the West Bengal chief minister’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s number was among the ones found in the database.
Traces of Pegasus was also found in elections strategist Prashant Kishore’s phone for 14 days in June 2021 and 12 days in July 2021, according to digital forensics conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Kishore had recently worked with the ruling Trinamool Congress during the West Bengal Assembly elections.
Following the reports, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee set up the committee to look into the allegations, and said it will look into matters such as illegal hacking, monitoring, surveillance and recording of mobile phones.