New Delhi: Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Arun Mishra, as well as two staffers deputed with the crucial writ section of the apex court were allegedly targeted with the Pegasus spyware, according to a report in The Wire, which is part of the global media consortium that has disclosed a list of people it claims were marked for potential surveillance.
A Rajasthan number “formerly registered” in the name of Mishra was added to the database in 2019. Justice Mishra retired in September 2020 and now heads the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Justice Mishra reportedly gave up that number on 21 April 2014.
In the latest tranche of names of potential targets, advocates representing Nirav Modi, the fugitive diamantaire, and Christian Michel, the British middleman who was extradited to India in connection with the Augusta Westland helicopter deal case, also feature.
The revelation Wednesday comes a day before the top court is scheduled to hear a batch of public interest litigations (PIL) seeking a probe into the Pegasus ‘hacking’ controversy. A two-judge bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana will hear the case Thursday morning. Justice Surya Kant is the other judge on the bench.
Beginning 18 July, coinciding with the eve of the Parliament monsoon session, the consortium has been releasing lists of names from a database of numbers the media agencies claim were targeted using Pegasus, the military-grade spyware owned by Israeli firm NSO. The NSO states that its clients are “vetted” governments and their agencies, a fact that opposition parties have been using to target the Modi government over the issue.
There are some 300 Indian numbers on the list, including that of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, political strategist Prashant Kishor, and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s MP nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
While the Centre has rejected the opposition’s demand for a court-monitored probe in the issue, the West Bengal government has set-up a two-member inquiry commission.
‘Targets in judiciary’
The two apex court employees who figure on the list are N.K. Gandhi and T.I. Rajput. While Gandhi has retired, Rajput is still working with the registry. Their phones were reportedly listed as potential targets in the “spring of 2019”.
The writ section in the apex court is responsible for maintaining documents of PILs that are filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, some of which are politically-sensitive cases. Article 32 deals with the right to move the Supreme Court in case one’s rights are not being upheld.
According to the roster of the top court, PILs are usually heard by the bench led by CJI, until he chooses to mark it to some other bench.
Phone numbers of advocate Vijay Aggarwal and his wife were also listed as potential targets in 2018. Apart from Nirav Modi, Aggarwal also represents his uncle Mehul Choksi, accused in the Punjab National Bank scam.
Meanwhile, Michel’s advocate Aljo P. Joseph’s number was added to the list in 2019. Wanted in the Augusta Westland case, Michel was extradited to India in December 2018. In a statement, issued soon after his extradition, the CBI had credited National Security Adviser Ajit Doval for ensuring Michel’s presence in the case.
The number of former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s junior, M. Thangathurai, also figures in the database. It became part of the list in 2019, two years after Rohatgi demitted the office of the top law officer.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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