The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the West Bengal government to “show restraint” in relation to the state’s judicial inquiry into the allegations of surveillance against the government using the Pegasus spyware, Live Law reported.
The court, however, did not pass an order to stop the functioning of the state’s investigating commission that has been set up to carry out an inquiry. This came after the counsel of the West Bengal government, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said that he would convey the court’s message to the Mamata Banerjee-led administration.
The Supreme Court was hearing a petition by the non-governmental organisation, Global Village Foundation Public Trust, which has challenged the formation of the commission.
The West Bengal government had set up the panel, which comprises retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, on July 26.
Lawyer Harish Salve, who was representing the NGO, argued on Wednesday that a parallel inquiry cannot continue while the Supreme Court is hearing the case.
Salve said that the commission has issued notices in newspapers seeking information from the public and stakeholders.
After the submissions, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said that the court expected restraint from the state government.
“The present issue is connected to other issues,” Ramana said. “It will have a bearing on it. In all fairness, we expect you to wait.”
The court also said that it will pass a comprehensive order on a batch of petitions on the Pegasus row next week, Bar and Bench reported. The bench added that if the state government begins an inquiry, it would have to pass an order.
Pegasus surveillance allegations
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. As part of the Pegasus Project, the organisations the list with 17 news outlets.
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.
The spyware 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.