In the case of spying of phones through Pegasus Spyware, the Government of West Bengal has constituted an inquiry commission. According to the ordinance issued by the state government, this commission will investigate the espionage case and find out how the information collected through it was used. According to the notification, it is a ‘definite matter of public importance’. The commission, set up by the West Bengal government, includes former Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur and former Calcutta High Court Justice Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya.
Developed by Israel’s cyber-intelligence company NSO Group, there are allegations of spying on Union ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, businessmen, police officers through this spyware. The matter has come to the fore from a global investigation by 17 media agencies around the world and the data was found by Paris-based Forbidden Stories.
The formation of a commission by the West Bengal government to investigate the matter will now increase the pressure on the central government to respond to the matter. The Leader of the Opposition has already demanded a probe by the Center. The West Bengal government has asked the Lokur Commission to submit its report within six months. However, the government is not obliged to make this report public. The state government is not bound to implement the findings of this report, but it can be presented as fact in court.
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Powers of Civil Court with Commission
The commission constituted by the government under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 has the powers of a civil court. It can register a case under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. This means that it has the power to order the attendance of any person from any part of the country by summoning it. Apart from this, the commission constituted under this Act has the power to call for any public record copy from any court or office in the country. Under Section 5 of the Act, for any important information related to the investigation, call any person, irrespective of his powerful position.
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pressure may increase above the center
Both the Central and the State Governments have the power to set up such commissions to inquire into any matter. However, the states have limited powers regarding which subjects it can constitute the commission. However, it is also here that legally who constitutes the first commission to investigate the same matter. If the Central Government has constituted a Commission to investigate any matter, then the State Government cannot constitute the Commission without the approval of the Center. However, if the State has constituted a Commission of Inquiry on a matter, then if the Center considers that the scope of inquiry is of two or more States, then it can constitute a Commission of Inquiry on the same matter. The commission set up by the Government of West Bengal in the Pegasus espionage case will now increase the pressure on the Center to respond to the matter.
In the past also, the center and the state have their own commissions on a matter.
The Central and State Governments have already constituted separate commissions to investigate the same case. In 2002, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, comprising Justice GT Nanavati and Justice AH Mehta, set up a commission to investigate the burning of the Godhra train and the subsequent riots in the state. The Nanavati Commission had given a clean chit to the Gujarat government in its report. In 2004, the then Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav constituted a commission of inquiry under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court Justice UC Banerjee on this issue. The findings of the report of the Banerjee Commission were contrary to the report of the Nanavati Commission. However, the Gujarat High Court later dismissed the report of the formation of the Banerjee Commission, terming it illegal. The High Court, in its decision, had said that the state government has already constituted a commission to investigate the matter, due to which it is illegal for the Center to constitute a commission for a similar case.
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Which subject matters can be looked into by the Commission?
A commission constituted by the Central Government under section 2(a) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, may constitute a commission to inquire into matters relating to any matter included in the Central List or State List or Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule. In contrast, the commission constituted by the state government can only constitute a commission to investigate the matter related to the subject of the state list and the concurrent list. In the Pegasus espionage case, the West Bengal government has referred to public order and police entries. These are subjects of the state list. However, it can be disputed because during the investigation there are some points which are part of the central list such as telegraphs, telephones, wireless broadcasting or other means of communication are part of the central list.
(Source: Indian Express)