The Supreme Court today asked the Centre if it will bring on record whether the government bought Pegasus or used it or if it was not used at all to address the contentions of the petitioners.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana observed that the Centre’s two-page affidavit, where it unequivocally denied all allegations of Pegasus snooping, and agreed to set up a panel of experts to examine all aspects of the matter, could not satisfy the petitioners who sought independent probe into snooping allegations.
He told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, the petitioners want to know whether the government had bought or used Pegasus.
“If not, then what steps the government took to inquire into the alleged illegal interceptions using Pegasus,” the Chief Justice said, adding that if Mehta wants to file a detailed affidavit, he can take time.
The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, told Mehta: “We will continue to hear the matter tomorrow (on August 17). If you change your mind, let us know tomorrow. If you decide to file an affidavit, then we have nothing to say, else we will hear all of you.”
Mehta submitted that the government has nothing to hide and the expert committee may go into whether Pegasus was used or not, and also all other aspects. He added that there are unsubstantiated media reports.
“We are dealing with a sensitive matter, but an attempt is being made to make it sensational. This matter will have national security implications,” he said.
At this, the Chief Justice said: “Whatever you want to say, why don’t you file an affidavit? We will also get a clear picture… we are not saying anything against the government. That is not the issue.”
On the scope of committee to examine the Pegasus issue, he said that there are areas which the committee can go into while some they can’t. “How will the committee examine the aspect of procurement of Pegasus?” he asked.
Mehta replied that the top court may lay down the terms of reference of the committee. “We have nothing to hide,” he said, adding that that if the court approves, a committee can be constituted of neutral experts and not government officers.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing journalist N. Ram, argued that the government should say whether it used Pegasus or not. “That will not reveal any national security issue,” he said.
Advocates Shyam Divan, Rakesh Dwivedi and others contended that government is evading the question if it or any of its agencies has ever used the Pegasus spyware, and asked the court to direct the government to come clean on this issue.
As the Chief Justice replied that “if the government is reluctant and they don’t want to file an affidavit, how do we compel them?”, Sibal contended: “Let them say that, then we can argue the other issues.”
“In that case, the matter gets even more serious because they are not denying it,” he added.
The Chief Justice told Mehta to tell the court by August 17, whether the government wants to file another detailed affidavit in the matter and scheduled the matter for further hearing on that date.
The Centre today, in a two-page affidavit, submitted in the top court that “with a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, it will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue”.
The top court is hearing a batch of petitions seeking various directions, which includes an SIT probe, a judicial inquiry and directions to the government to reveal details about whether it had used the Pegasus software to spy on citizens.