While making it clear that it did not want the government to disclose anything which compromises national security, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramanna, on Tuesday, granted some more time to the Centre for filing its response to a batch of pleas seeking an independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter. The Court fixed the further hearing on September 13.
As soon as the matter came up for hearing before the Bench, also comprised of Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta said that due to some difficulties, the affidavit, sought by the Bench, could not be filed and sought listing of the case either on Thursday or Monday.
"There is some difficulty with the affidavit. We had filed one and you had enquired if we want to file another one, some officers were not there...if this matter can be kept on Thursday or Monday," the SG said. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Senior Journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, said that, "he does not have any objection to the request." The Bench then listed the matters on Monday.
Earlier, the Court had issued notice to the Centre on August 17 and subsequently, the Center had filed a reply opposing the petitions. It is the case of the Center that the allegations in the petitions are based upon conjectures, surmises and unsubstantiated media reports. A group of experts will examine all issues raised. The issue has already been clarified in the Parliament by Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnav.
The Apex Court was hearing as many as 12 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 petition filed by Senior Journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar states that the alleged spying through military-grade spyware is an attempt to destabilize independent institutions as well as an attack on the right to free speech and privacy. They have sought an inquiry by sitting or former Supreme Court Judge over the issue.
Similar petitions have also been filed by Rajya Sabha MP Jhon Brittas, Supreme Court Advocate ML Sharma and former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya.
With PTI inputs