The West Bengal government today told the Supreme Court that its two-member panel headed by former Supreme Court judge MB Lokur will not proceed with the inquiry into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter till the pleas pending before the top court have been heard.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana on August 17 had issued notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions, including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking independent probe into the alleged snooping and said that it would take up the matter after 10 days and see what course should be adopted.
The pleas taken up earlier were related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians, and journalists by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.
As soon as a separate plea by NGO ‘Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust’, against the setting up of the commission of inquiry by the West Bengal government, came up for hearing on Wednesday, the bench suggested the state to not proceed with its inquiry saying, “If we are hearing other matters, we expect some restraint.”
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the NGO, said that there cannot be be two parallel inquiries.
“Please see nothing is done in the proceedings there while this court is hearing the matter,” he said.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the state government, opposed Harish Salve’s plea.
The case at hand is connected to other matters and “in all fairness we expect you to wait… we will hear it with the other matters sometime next week, ” the bench said, adding that the petitions, against Pegasus snooping allegations, are likely to have “pan-India impact”.
“You are forcing us to pass order,” the bench said as Mr Singhvi submitted that nothing big is going to happen in the coming days.
“Please say nothing, I will convey it,” Mr Singhvi said.
The top court has now tagged the plea of the NGO with similar petitions on the issue.
On August 18, the top court had asked the Centre and West Bengal government to respond to the plea challenging the setting up of the Commission by the state.
Advocate Saurabh Mishra, appearing for the NGO, had told the bench that the Commission should not conduct further proceedings and a public notice has been issued by it and proceedings are taking place on a day-to-day basis.
The counsel argued that the petition challenges the notification by the West Bengal government last month appointing the Commission on the ground of jurisdiction.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said he would be assisting the court on Constitutional questions involved in the matter.
“This is unconstitutional is all I can say,” Mr Mehta had said.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Lokur and former chief justice of Calcutta High Court Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya are the members of the Commission of Inquiry announced by the West Bengal government last month.
The inquiry panel came into being after it was revealed that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee was allegedly snooped on with the Pegasus spyware.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware