Pegasus Scandal: India’s top journalists want Supreme Court to order probe

News Network
July 27, 2021

New Delhi, July 27: Reports on Israeli Pegasus spyware allegedly being used to spy on opposition leaders, two union ministers and 40 journalists among others should be investigated by a sitting or former judge, senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar have said in a petition to the Supreme Court.

The petition says the global investigation involving several leading publications around the world has revealed that more than 142 persons in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO's Pegasus spyware.

The petition says the Supreme Court should direct the government to disclose whether it has obtained a license for the spyware or used it - directly or indirectly - to conduct surveillance of any kind.

According to the petitioners, the forensic analysis of several mobile phones belonging to people listed as potential targets by the Security Lab of Amnesty International have confirmed security breaches.

Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers, businessman Anil Ambani, a former CBI chief, a virologist and 40 journalists are on the list of 300 phones from India revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of NSO. It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.

Two petitions were filed earlier in the Supreme Court on the same case, one by CPM MP John Brittas and the other by advocate ML Sharma.

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News Network
September 13,2021

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Bengaluru, Sept 13: Leader of Opposition in Karnataka Assembly Siddaramaiah, State Congress president D K Shivakumar along with other party leaders arrived at Legislative Assembly on bullock carts, in protest against inflation, to participate in the Monsoon Session of the state legislature.

The 10-day-long session will be held from September 13 to 24 at Vidhana Soudha. 

The Congress, which recently held its legislature party meeting, chaired by its leader Siddaramaiah, to discuss the party's strategy during the session, has said it will raise the issues of price rise, deteriorating law and order situation and distressing financial position of the state, among others.

This is the first session of the Karnataka legislature after Basavaraj Bommai took charge as the Chief Minister and his new cabinet assumed office, following the exit of state BJP strong man B S Yediyurappa.

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News Network
September 22,2021

The Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorist Squad on Tuesday, 21 September, arrested Islamic scholar Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui from Meerut on charges of alleged religious conversions. 

The Maulana is the President of Global Peace Center and also the President of Jamiat-e-Waliullah.

"UP ATS has arrested Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, in connection with India's largest religious conversion syndicate busted by the ATS. He runs Jamia Imam Waliullah trust that funds several madrassas for which he received huge foreign funding," the police said, according to a media report.

The police arrested the Maulana on Tuesday night when he was returning to his native Muzaffarnagar after attending a function.

Uttar Pradesh ATS Inspector General GK Goswami said the syndicate had "converted around 1000 people in India".

Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Amanatullah Khan called his arrest a political move.

"Famous Islamic scholar Maulana Kalim Siddiqui Sahab has been arrested ahead of the elections in Uttar Pradesh. The atrocities on Muslims are increasing. The silence of secular parties on these issues is giving more strength to the BJP. How much more will BJP fall to win the UP elections?" Amanatullah Khan asked on Twitter.

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News Network
September 23,2021

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has told Delhi High Court that Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief In Emergency Fund, or the PM-CARES Fund, which was created in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, does not come under the Government of India and it cannot be brought under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act. Also, the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India, the Delhi High Court has been informed.

The Centre, in an affidavit, said that the Fund can neither be listed as "State" nor "public authority" under the Right to Information as it received funds from private sources.

An affidavit filed by an Under Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who is discharging his functions in the PM Cares Trust on honorary basis, has said the trust functions with transparency and its funds are audited by an auditor -- a chartered accountant drawn from the panel prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

The affidavit was filed in response to a petition seeking a direction to declare the PM-CARES Fund a 'State' under the Constitution to ensure transparency in its functioning.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Amit Bansal has fixed the matter for further hearing on September 27.

"To ensure transparency, the audited report is put on the official website of the trust along with the details of utilisation of funds received by the trust,” says the affidavit filed by Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, Under Secretary at the PMO.

“I state that when the petitioner is claiming to be a public-spirited person and seeking to pray for various reliefs only for transparency, it does not matter whether PM-CARES is a ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India,” the officer said in the affidavit.

Irrespective of whether the trust is a ‘State’ or other authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution or whether it is a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of provisions of the Right to Information Act (RTI), it is not permissible to disclose third party information.It said that all donations received by the trust are received via online payments, cheques or Demand Drafts and the amount received is audited with the audited report and the expenditure of trust fund displayed on the website.

“The trust functions on the principles of transparency and public good in larger public interest like any other charitable trust and, therefore, cannot have any objection in uploading all its resolutions on its website to ensure transparency,” it said, while reiterating that “the trust’s fund is not a fund of Government of India and the amount does not go in the Consolidated Fund of India.”

The officer said he is discharging his functions in the PM-CARES Trust on honorary basis, which is a charitable trust not created by or under the Constitution or by any law made by the Parliament or by any State legislature. “Despite being an officer of the Central government, I am permitted to discharge my functions in PM-CARES Trust on an honorary basis,” he said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Samyak Gangwal who has said that the PM-CARES Fund is a 'State' as it was formed by the Prime Minister on March 27, 2020 to extend assistance to the citizens of India in the wake of the public health emergency -- the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. His counsel had told the court that if it is found that the PM-CARES Fund is not 'State' under the Constitution, usage of the domain name '.gov.in', the Prime Minister's photograph, state emblem etc has to be stopped.

The petition said that the Trustees of the fund are the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Home Minister and the Finance Minister and immediately after the formation of the fund, the Centre through its high government functionaries represented that the fund was set up and operated by the Government of India.

To ensure transparency and accountability, the plea has sought a direction for periodic auditing of PM-CARES website and disclosure of the details of donations received by it.

In his alterative prayers, Gangwal has sought to direct the Centre to publicise that the PM-CARES Fund is not a fund of the Government of India and to restrain PM-CARES from using 'Prime Minister of India' or 'Prime Minister', including its abbreviations its name, on its website, Trust Deed and other official or unofficial communications and advertisements.

On March 9, the court had said it was not inclined to issue notice on the plea as the Centre was already represented through counsel who may file their written submissions.

The petitioner has also filed another petition to declare PM-CARES as a 'public authority' under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which is being heard together with the first plea.

This petition challenges a June 2, 2020 order of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), PMO, refusing to provide documents sought by him on the ground that PM-CARES Fund is not a public authority under the RTI Act.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented PMO, had opposed the petition, stating that it was not maintainable and that he would file a response explaining why it should not be entertained. 

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