Prior to leaving for her three-day trip to Delhi, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced setting up a “Commission of Inquiry” by two retired judges to probe into alleged Pegasus phone hacking cases on politicians, officials and journalists in the state. The commission has been asked to submit its report within six months to the state government.
The decision to set up the commission, which will include Justice Madan Bhimarao Lokur, retired Judge, Supreme Court of India and Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, retired Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court, was approved by a special Cabinet headed by Miss Banerjee today. The chief minister said West Bengal is the first state in the country to set up such a commission to look into allegations of hacking of phones of politicians, journalists and other citizens as the Union government was “reluctant” to probe the Pegasus snooping row.
“We thought the Centre would form an inquiry commission or a Supreme Courtmonitored probe would be ordered to look into this phone-hacking incident. But the Centre is sitting idle. So we decided to form a Commission of Inquiry to look into the matter,” Miss Banerjee said after the special Cabinet meeting at Nabanna.
This comes days after Trinamul Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee, Miss Banerjee’s nephew appeared on the list of potential surveillance targets of the Israeli-made spyware.
“The commission will probe hacking and how it is being done. Hope this small step will be a wake-up call for others. We want justice for people. Names of many people from West Bengal have figured on the Pegasus target list. The Centre is trying to snoop on everyone,” she said, adding that the commission has been asked to start working immediately.
A notification in this regard that was issued by state home secretary BP Gopalika today stated that the commission has been set up under section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 (60 of 1952). The terms of reference of the commission are to enquire into whether any incidences of reported Interception have occurred, enquire into the State and non-State actors who were involved in such reported Interception and inquire into mechanism and/or spyware and/or malware that were being used to effectuate such reported Interception.
Next, it will inquire into whether any software such as Pegasus of NSO Group Technologies located at Herzliya, Israel, and/or any spyware and/or malware of any other organisation had been in use and/ or currently being used to conduct such reported Interception.
The commission will inquire into the events leading to the occurrence of the incidences of interception of the aforesaid category of individuals or public at large, and the information that has been collected, altered, stored, or used and the possession, storage, and further collection and use, of such information pertaining to such Interception in the hands of State actors and non-State actors.
It will investigate into the circumstances including provocations, instigations from any persons/group of persons, if any, leading to the reported Interception. It will enquire into the details of the victims and /or persons affected and enquire into the role of other authorities and/or State and /or non-State actors in such Interception.
If such reported Interception is found to be true, to enquire into whether State/non-State actors can, without any express legal provision and/or judicial oversight, carry out the reported Interception. If such reported Interception is found to be true, to inquire into the reasons and/or legality and/or authority.
If such reported Interception is found to be true whether such right to privacy of the category of individuals has been affected and to examine any other matter or facts relevant to, ancillary or incidental or connected with its subject of inquiry including the above questions which the Commission may deem fit and proper to investigate.
Earlier, at her Martyrs’ Day speech, Miss Banerjee had said that she had covered the camera of her mobile phone to prevent snooping. “Pegasus is dangerous. They are harassing people. Spying is going on. Phones of ministers and judges are being tapped. They have finished the democratic structure. Pegasus has captured the Election Commission, judiciary, ministers and media. Instead of a democratic state, they want to convert it into a surveillance state,” she had earlier said.