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SC stays Bengal govt probe into Pegasus snooping row

Chief Justice Ramana expresses displeasure at commission launching investigations when counsel promised otherwise
The Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India
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Arnab Ganguly   |   Kolkata   |   Published 17.12.21, 01:14 PM

A Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana stayed the proceedings of the two-member commission set up by the West Bengal government to probe allegations of snooping using the Israeli Pegasus spyware on Friday.

The counsel representing West Bengal government, Abhishek Manu Sinhgvi, had on August 25 assured the apex court that the commission of inquiry headed by the retired Supreme Court judge Justice M.B. Lokur would not proceed with its investigations.

However, in reality the commission did proceed with its probe issuing summons and hearing depositions of witnesses.

An NGO, Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust, had filed a public interest litigation demanding the commission be disbanded.

On Thursday, the NGO had pressed for urgent listing of the matter saying that the West Bengal government was going ahead with the proceedings despite its oral undertaking to the Supreme Court, which has formed an independent expert committee to probe the snooping allegations.

Appearing on behalf of the petitioner, senior advocate Harish Salve challenged the Bengal government’s inquiry before the bench comprising CJI Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

Expressing its displeasure, the bench asked the Bengal government counsel why the proceedings were being held.  

“Mr Singhvi what is this? Last time you gave the undertaking. We wanted to record you said don’t record. Again you started the inquiry?” asked CJI Ramana.

Singhvi replied that the state government did not have the authority to control the commission.

“I said I don’t control the commission and I will convey the constraint, I did. The commission started. Please summon their counsel and pass orders. As a state I can’t restrain the commission,” Singhvi told the bench.

The CJI then ordered: “We understand the state’s predicament. Issue notices to all parties. We stay the proceedings.”

In August when the PIL came up before the bench demanding the Bengal government be stopped from going ahead with the inquiry proceedings, the bench had remarked: “Whether it (NGO) is right or wrong is not the issue here. The issue is that this matter (inquiry commission) is connected to other cases that are pending here. An order by us will have all India ramification. We just want you to wait for some time.”

Singhvi had then managed to avoid a stay but gave an oral undertaking on behalf of the government that the proceedings will not be held.

On October 27, the apex court constituted an expert committee to probe the snooping allegations. Little over a month later from November 29, the two-member commission comprising Justices MB Lokur and Jyotirmay Bhattacharya started its hearing on the matter.

On Monday, Sumit Roy, secretary to Abhishek Banerjee, the all India general secretary of Trinamul Congress, had submitted his deposition, along with an officer from the state CID.

The stay on the commission has come at a time when the issue was possibly headed for another showdown between the Bengal government and the Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

“As no documentation was brought to his notice regarding West Bengal government notification on Pegasus inquiry panel, West Bengal Governor has directed chief secretary to make available the same by tomorrow 5 pm, indicating his failure is not in accord with constitutional norms,” tweeted Governor Dhankhar.

On December 6, the Governor wrote to the chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi to submit a copy of the notification and the proceedings by December 10. 

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