West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced a commission of inquiry into the alleged surveillance of phones using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group.
Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Justice (retd) Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, have been appointed as members of the commission.
Banerjee made the announcement shortly before she left for Delhi on a three-day visit during which she will meet several leaders of the Opposition to explore ways to build a front against the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.
After a special meeting of the West Bengal Cabinet on Monday, the Chief Minister said: “The Cabinet has approved the appointment of a commission of inquiry consisting of the Hon’ble Justice M B Lokur, retired Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Hon’ble Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, retired Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, in exercise of the power under Section 3 of The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, in the matter of the widely reported illegal hacking, monitoring, putting under surveillance, tracking, and recording of mobile phones of various persons in West Bengal.”
“They (members of the commission) will look into who all are involved in this hacking, and how they are doing this illegal activity. And also how they are keeping others mum,” Banerjee told a press conference in Kolkata.
“We thought the central government will take steps on this, and will form a neutral investigation team. However, they did not do so. Then we decided to set up a commission of inquiry ourselves,” she said.
Under The Commissions of Inquiry Act, both the Centre and states can institute a probe. Under Section 3(1)(a) of the Act, once the Centre has appointed a commission, a state cannot, “except with the approval of the Central Government, appoint another Commission to inquire into the same matter for so long as the Commission appointed by the Central Government is functioning”.