New Delhi: The defence ministry on Monday said it did not have any transaction with the NSO Group, the developer of military-grade spy software Pegasus that is in the eye of a huge political firestorm following the snooping controversy allegedly involving the programme.
The brief written statement on the NSO Group came from Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt in response to a question in Rajya Sabha by CPI(M) member V Sivadasan.
“Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies,” the minister said.
Sivadasan, as part of a number of questions on expenditure by the defence ministry, also asked whether the government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies.
NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance software company, has been under increasing attack following allegations that its Pegasus phone spyware was used for surveillance on journalists, activists and political leaders in several countries including India. NSO has denied any wrongdoing.
The opposition parties have been targeting the central government over the snooping row and disrupting proceedings in Parliament since it met on July 19 for the Monsoon session.
The opposition parties have been demanding a discussion on the Pegasus issue in parliament, claiming it has national security implications.
IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament were aimed at maligning Indian democracy.
In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnav had said that with several checks and balances being in place, “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.
The controversy erupted after an investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data claimed evidence that the military-grade malware from the NSO Group was being used to spy on politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others.
In his reply, Bhatt also said that an allocation of Rs 4,04,364 crore was made to the defence ministry in the budget estimate (BE) stage in 2018-19 and the expenditure made during that fiscal by the ministry was Rs 4,03,459 crore.
The minister said that an outlay of Rs 4,31,010 crore was made at the BE stage in 2019-20 while expenditure against the allocation was Rs 4,51,902 crore.
In 2020-21, the defence ministry incurred an expenditure of Rs 4,85,726 crore as against an allocation of Rs 4,71,378 crore at the BE stage, he said.
The percentage of allocation to the defence ministry out of the total budget of the central government for 2018-19 was 16.56 per cent while it was 15.47 per cent in 2019-20 and 15.49 per cent in 2020-21, according to the minister.
Bhatt said an amount of Rs 45,705 crore was spent in 2018-19 on procurement from foreign sources while the figure for 2019-20 was 47,961.47 crore. The ministry spent Rs 53,118 crore in procurement from foreign countries in 2020-21.