Govt Official Visited Israel In 2019 To Acquire Pegasus-like Spyware, Claims PIL In Bombay HC

The Bombay HC issued a notice to the Maharashtra government in the same case on Thursday, seeking response within four weeks.

PIL filed in the Bombay High Court has questioned a 2019 visit to Israel by officials of the state Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR), with the petitioners’ lawyer claiming that it was for acquiring a “spying software like Pegasus”. The Bombay HC issued a notice to the Maharashtra government in the same case on Thursday.

There was apparently “a nexus between the phone tapping cases, which are a matter of public knowledge now, and the Israel tour”, claimed the petition filed by Laxman Bura and Digamber.

The PIL also alleged that several rules regarding the sanctioning of such foreign tours were violated in the process.

“Israel doesn’t have any specific expertise on web media (the subject of the study tour) that the state government officials could have benefited from,” said their lawyer, advocate Tejesh Dande, in the court. “They (petitioners) say the actual object of sending team to Israel was to acquire a spying software like Pegasus,” he added.

The state government, DGIPR and five officials, all of whom have been made party to the PIL, have been ordered by the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni to file their replies, if any, within four weeks.

After the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, a delegation of five “chosen” senior officials of the DGIPR was sent to Israel on November 15, 2019 for ten days to study “advance web media,” the PIL said.

The political situation was very tensed in the state at this given time as all stakeholders were planning to form a government in the hung assembly.

The PIL alleged that the tour was undertaken without taking mandatory permissions from the chief minister, Union government or the Election Commission of India, and violated a host of rules for such tours set out in a state Government Resolution of 2014.

Among other things, the PIL also sought judicial inquiry into the tour.

“The country of Israel has an expertise in the technology of agriculture. On the contrary, the subject of the study tour was enhancement of usage of web media. It is in this backdrop that the acceptance and sanctioning of the said tour creates a reasonable suspicion on the purpose and motivation behind it,” the PIL said.

The PIL claimed that as much as Rs 14 lakh were spent from the exchequer for this tour.

According to the petition, replies to queries under the Right To Information said even though the proposal for the tour had been drafted hurriedly and violated several rules, it was nevertheless approved by the government.

The HC asked the petitioner’s lawyer if the Supreme Court was adjudicating upon a similar issue. Advocate Dande said the issues in a petition related to the Pegasus row before the apex court were different.

The bench then issued notices and asked the respondents to “file affidavits in reply, if any, within four weeks.”



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