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Supreme Court seeks govt’s reply to Pegasus petitions in 10 days

The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on a batch of pleas seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter, making it clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything which might compromise national security.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said this after the government maintained that divulging information on affidavits would involve aspects of national security.

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, said it had thought that government would file a comprehensive affidavit but only a limited affidavit was filed in the matter.

The apex court said it will take up the pleas for hearing after 10 days and will see what course of action should be adopted in the matter.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Centre, told the bench that the government had made its stand clear in the affidavit which was filed on Monday.

“Our considered response is what we have respectfully stated in our last affidavit. Kindly examine the issue from our point of view as our affidavit is sufficient,” Mehta told the bench, adding, “The Government of India is before the highest court of the country.”

He said the government has said in its affidavit that it will constitute a committee of experts to examine all the aspect and the panel will submit its report before the top court.

“There is nothing to hide,” he said, adding that aspect of national security is involved in the matter.

Mehta said this cannot be a “matter of public debate” and the committee of experts will report to the apex court.

“This is a sensitive matter and this has to be dealt with sensitivity,” he said, adding that government cannot divulge information in the public domain on the security apparatus being used.

The bench told Mehta that it does not want anything which would compromise national security.

“What is the problem if the competent authority files an affidavit before us,” the bench observed, adding, “We do not want any word about national security.”

Mehta said he is not saying that government will not tell anything to anyone and his argument is that they do not wish to say this publicly.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for veteran journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar who have filed a petition in the matter, said they do not want the state to divulge any information which may have bearing on national security.

The bench said it is issuing notice to the government and the matter would be heard after 10 days.

The court is hearing a batch of pleas, including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India, seeking an independent probe into the matter.

They are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.

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.

The apex court had said on Monday that it cannot compel the reluctant Centre to file a detailed affidavit on pleas seeking information if Pegasus spyware was used to snoop on certain citizens and steps it took to probe the allegations amid vehement claims that there was nothing to hide and it will set up a panel to examine all aspects related to the issue.

The Centre had on Monday filed a limited affidavit in the court and said the pleas were based on conjectures and surmise or on other unsubstantiated media reports or incomplete or uncorroborated material.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in a two-page affidavit had told the court that to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with the object of examining the issues raised, the Centre will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue.

Sibal had argued that the Centre should file an affidavit stating whether the government or its agencies have used Pegasus. PTI

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