Pegasus Spyware Probe #3: SC Allows West Bengal Inquiry Commission To Continue Operations

Pegasus Spyware Probe

August 18th 2021

A bench comprising CJI RamanaJ Surya Kant and J Aniruddha Bose heard a petition seeking a stay on the inquiry commission set up by the Government of West Bengal to investigate the interception of mobile phone data using Pegasus spyware. The petitioner is  Global Village Foundation Public Trust, a research organisation.

The Government of West Bengal issued a notification setting up an inquiry commission on August 16, 2021. The commission is headed by Retd. Supreme Court judge, J Madan Lokur. The Government’s notification states that interception of mobile phones belonging to politicians, judges and journalists may have caused State secrets to be breached.

West Bengal Government Has No Power To Order Inquiry, Claims Petitioner

Adv. Saurabh Mishra, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the West Bengal Government did not have the jurisdiction to establish a commission to enquire into this matter.

The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, gives both the Union and the State governments the power to set up inquiry commissions to investigate subjects in the Union and State lists respectively. Both can investigate subjects in the concurrent list.

The West Bengal government, in its notification, claims that the Pegasus controversy involves matters of public order and police entries which are subjects in the State List. The petitioners argue that only the Union has the power to set up an inquiry commission on the Pegasus case.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the Union Government, stated that the notification was unconstitutional.

Court Rejects Plea for Interim Stay on WB Notification, Tags Petition To Be Heard With Other Pegasus Petitions

Adv. Saurabh Mishra noted that the West Bengal commission was functioning on a daily basis, and issuing summons. Since the Supreme Court was already hearing petitions seeking a national-level probe, he argued that the operations of the inquiry commission should be halted until the Court decides on the pending petitions.

The Bench rejected this plea- the commission set up by the West Bengal Government can continue its operations for now. It ordered for the petition to be tagged with the other pegasus pleas, to be heard on August 25, 2021.