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Pegasus: Bengal government puts state-appointed probe on hold

The state cited Supreme Court’s call for 'restraint' and advice to 'wait' as it was already hearing the matter
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 26.08.21, 02:28 AM

The Bengal government on Wednesday suggested it would keep on hold a state-appointed commission’s probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations, heeding the Supreme Court’s call for “restraint” and advice to “wait” as it was already hearing the matter.

Announced by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on July 26, the country’s first commission to probe the Pegasus controversy was scheduled to submit its findings and recommendations within six months. The panel is made up of former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.

During Wednesday’s hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Bengal government, assured the Supreme Court that the commission’s investigation would be kept in abeyance for now.

The bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justice Surya Kant had expressed its reservations about a parallel inquiry.

The state, however, said the NGO Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust, which has approached the apex court seeking the cancellation of the commission, was associated with the RSS and that its petition was politically motivated and aimed at scuttling an independent inquiry.

CJI Ramana told Singhvi that the bench was already hearing petitions seeking a court-monitored investigation into the Pegasus allegations and that it would tag the Bengal government’s plea against the NGO’s appeal with them.

“If we are hearing other matters (related to Pegasus), we expect some restraint…. The present issue is connected to other issues (associated with Pegasus). In all fairness, we expect you to show restraint. You can wait. We will hear it with the other matters sometime next week,” Chief Justice Ramana told Singhvi.

Singhvi initially said “heavens would not fall” if the committee was allowed to proceed with the inquiry.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the NGO, contended: “You can’t have two parallel inquiries. Please see nothing is done in the proceedings there while the court is hearing the matter.”

Justice Surya Kant agreed, saying if a parallel inquiry was allowed to proceed, it would have pan-India implications. “These matters are likely to have pan-India implications. We will have advantage of your (the Bengal government’s) assistance in those matters also,” the judge said.

Singhvi urged the court not to pass any order or make observations. “Between now and next week, nothing earth shattering is happening. Your Lordship’s word will create a splash,” he submitted.

CJI Ramana replied: “Mr Singhvi, you are not listening to us. All we were saying was we will list this with other matters. You’re forcing us to pass order.”

The senior counsel said: “Please say nothing, I will convey it (to the Bengal government).” The comment implies that the committee’s probe will be kept on hold for now.

The bench issued a formal notice to the Bengal government on the NGO’s petition and tagged it with the batch of pleas filed by journalists and civil liberties activists seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the allegation that the Israeli spyware Pegasus had been used to snoop on judges, journalists, activists, politicians and others.

‘RSS link’

In a counter-affidavit on the NGO’s public interest litigation petition, the Bengal government linked it with the RSS.

“It is submitted that the motive behind the filing of the instant Writ Petition is nebulous to say the least. The answering respondent believes that the Petitioner’s intent behind filing this writ petition is to divert this Hon’ble Court’s attention away from the seminal issues it is being confronted with in the main batch of writ petitions filed by reputed journalists, members of civil society and persons allegedly affected by the ‘Pegasus’ software, by drawing the State of West Bengal into the centre of the controversy,” the affidavit stated.

“The said apprehension is neither remote nor unfounded. It is necessary to mention that the Trustee and Chairman of the Petitioner, one Mr Balram Nandwani, has close associations with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the RSS,” the affidavit, filed through additional chief secretary B.P. Gopalika, alleged.

According to the Mamata government, the intent behind the state’s decision to appoint a commission of inquiry was neither to have a parallel probe nor to overreach the proceedings pending before the apex court.

“It cannot be disputed that the RSS and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP, are affiliates and have often vilified the State Government for political gains,” the Bengal government added.

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