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Lokur panel won’t proceed with Pegasus probe for now, Bengal says after SC ‘expects restraint’

SC expresses its disapproval over the constitution of commission of inquiry by Bengal govt, says it will have a bearing on other matters.

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New Delhi: The West Bengal government Wednesday assured the Supreme Court that the two-member commission of inquiry, headed by Justice MB Lokur, to probe into the Pegasus hacking controversy would not proceed with its hearing for now.

The promise was made verbally by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi before a bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, which expressed its disapproval with the constitution of the commission at a time when the top court was hearing a batch of petitions demanding a court-monitored probe into the alleged spying scandal.

Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust, the Supreme Court bench, also having justice Suryakant as its member, told Singhvi: “If we are hearing other matters, we expect some restraint. This (commission of inquiry) will have a bearing on the other matters (before the court).”

The NGO has asked for disbanding the commission.

‘Nothing will happen’

Appearing for the NGO, senior advocate Harish Salve and counsel Saurabh Mishra agreed with the bench’s suggestion to tag the PIL with other sets of PILs on the issue of a probe into Pegasus. However, they asked the bench to stay the proceedings before the inquiry commission.

In response, Singhvi objected to the plea for a stay, but did not oppose tagging of the PIL.

But the bench told him that “in all fairness” it expected the state to wait till it was hearing other matters.

When the bench indicated it would put the panel’s functioning on hold, besides tagging the PIL with the pending PILs, Singhvi implored the judges not to issue any written orders because a “word by the lordships will create a splash.”

“Between now and next week, nothing earth-shattering will happen. Please say nothing, I will convey it,” Singhvi submitted.

The senior counsel argued the inquiry commission was based on a statutory order. He claimed the NGO petitioner had political affiliations with the BJP.

As he was about to read portions from the state government’s affidavit, filed in response to the PIL, the bench stopped him to say: “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 ramifications. We just want you to wait for some time.”

The bench made it clear it would not pass any written directions if Singhvi was willing to make a promise.

The senior counsel went on to submit that he will convey to the commission the court’s opinion and assured “nothing will happen” till the SC hears the batch of PILs on Pegasus.

“I will convey informally,” Singhvi told the bench, prompting the latter to say: “That is what we are asking you to do. We do not want to stay and complicate the matter further.”

Making his brief submission Salve recalled senior advocate Kapil Sibal’s argument in the other set of matters to argue that if the alleged snooping was illegal then the central government has the authority under the constitution to hold an inquiry.

Appearing for senior journalist N. Ram, Sibal asked the court on 17 August to direct the Centre to come clean on whether it has used Pegasus spyware or not and also rejected the government’s proposal to constitute a committee of technical experts to look into the controversy.

Also read: Did govt use Pegasus or not? SC says Modi govt ‘doesn’t want to take stand’

‘Can’t be a silent spectator’

In its written response to the PIL, the West Bengal government has justified before the top court setting up of the two-member inquiry panel, saying the move was imminent given the potential ramifications of the alleged snooping on the fundamental right to privacy and independence of public institutions and preservation of democracy.

“The State Government could not sit as a silent spectator particularly when the Union Government was not only non-committal and evasive on the subject but had also at the very threshold dismissed the allegations under the rubric of sensationalism,” stated the affidavit.

It refuted the contention that the commission was an attempt to have a parallel inquiry into the matter and to overreach the proceedings before SC.

“The commission, being a fact-finding body cannot overreach the orders of this Hon’ble Court nor can it dilute them. This is precisely why an eminent retired judge of this Hon’ble Court and an eminent former Chief Justice of the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court comprise the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the state government,” said the affidavit.

Also read: Allegations in Pegasus case serious but need more than news reports to order probe, SC says


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