New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed all proceedings before the Justice Madan B Commission of Inquiry appointed by the West Bengal Government to probe into the Pegasus snooping scandal.
A Bench led by CJI NV Ramana issued the restraint order after it was told that the Justice Lokur Commission continued to function, despite setting up of an expert committee by the Supreme Court to look into the matter.
The Bench also issued notice on a plea seeking quashing of the West Bengal notification that set up the Commission.
It also allowed the request of senior advocate Harish Salve, representing ‘Global Village Foundation Public Charitable Trust’, to add the Commission’s secretary as a party to the proceedings.
“What is this Mr Singhvi? You told us there is no need to order…,” the Bench asked senior advocate AM Singhvi, representing the West Bengal Government.
“I had conveyed the need for restraint but the Commission is not controlled by me…. They didn’t work till your orders were out…,” Singhvi responded.
“We understand your predicament,” the Bench told Singhvi while staying all further proceedings before the Justice Lokur Commission.
As advocate ML Sharma, one of the petitioners in the case, said it amounted to “gross contempt of court”, the CJI said, “We will see.”
Noting that citizens need to be protected from violation of privacy, the Supreme Court on October 27 set up an independent expert committee led by former top court judge RV Raveendran to look into allegations of snooping on journalists, activists, politicians, etc, using the Israeli Pegasus spyware.
Asking the panel to expeditiously probe the issue and submit a report to it, the Bench had posted the matter for hearing after eight weeks. Now, the main case likely to come up for hearing in January next year.
An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware. It was also reported that phones of a former judge of the Supreme Court and its registrars were allegedly intercepted using the spyware.
Around 10 petitioners, including the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and others, had sought an independent probe into the alleged snooping on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO’s spyware Pegasus.