Attorney General KK Venugopal has refused to grant consent to Tamil Nadu MP Thol Thirumavalavan to initiate contempt proceedings against Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, former home secretary Rajiv Gauba and the directors of the Israeli NSO Group in the Pegasus surveillance matter. The A-G said that the matter is sub-judice before the Supreme Court, so consent cannot be granted.
MP and VCK (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi) chief Thirumavalavan had written to the A-G in August, seeking consent to initiate proceedings for criminal contempt against the listed persons under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The MP had written in his letter that he had named the home secretary as he is the appropriate authority in India in the matter of deploying surveillance on citizens.
In his letter, Thirumavalan had written that the Union governmentâs response to questions on whether it had used the Pegasus spyware to spy on its citizens had been âequivocal and vagueâ. According to The Wire, the MP also mentioned that it was âreasonably apparentâ the individuals named in the plea âwere involved in an effort of military grade surveillance against a Supreme Court justice, while he still was in office, two Supreme Court registry officials on the judicial side of the writ section, and another Supreme Court staffer,â using the NSOâs Pegasus spyware.
In a letter responding to the MP, Attorney General KK Venugopal wrote, âThe question of whether the Government of India has used the Pegasus software and if so against whom is a matter which is being debated and is currently sub-judice before the Supreme Court of India. In the absence of such determination having been made, it would be inappropriate for me to grant consent for the initiation of proceedings for criminal contempt under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.â
Last month, the Supreme Court had declared that it would set up its own technical expert committee to inquire into the Pegasus issue while hearing pleas seeking an independent probe into the matter. Prior to that, the Union government had also said that it would set an expert panel on its own to look into the allegations of the alleged surveillance of several Indian citizens including politicians and journalists. The Union government told the Supreme Court that it did not wish to file a detailed affidavit, with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claiming that the issue of whether a particular software is used or not by the government is not a matter for public discussion, and making this a part of an affidavit will not be in national interest.