India deputy defense minister denies allegations concerning transactions with spyware developer
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India deputy defense minister denies allegations concerning transactions with spyware developer

India’s deputy defense minister issued a written response [Indian government document, accessible from within India] to a question raised in the Indian Parliament on Monday stating that the Defense Ministry has had “no transaction” with the Israeli company NSO Group Technologies, which developed the Pegasus spyware allegedly used to illegally surveil journalists, constitutional authorities, opposition leaders and other civilians.

The statement was made by Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt in response to a question raised by Kerala MP V. Sivadasan in the Rajya Sabha about the Pegasus scandal, which was the first of its kind in the Parliament. Earlier, Sivadasan had requested the Defense Ministry to disclose whether or not it had engaged in any business transactions with NSO Group, and if so, to provide details.

According to Bhatt, a total of 457.05 billion rupees was spent on procurement from foreign sources in 2018-19, and the figure for 2019-20 was ₹479.61 billion. In the fiscal year 2020-21, the ministry spent ₹531.18 billion on purchases from foreign countries. He further added in response that the Ministry of Defence had not entered into any transaction with NSO Group Technologies, and therefore, the need for providing details of said alleged transactions does not arise.

According to a suo motu statement made in the Lok Sabha by the IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, owing to a number of checks and balances in place, “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorized persons is impossible in India.  His comments included the assertion that reports were “intended to malign the Indian democratic process.”

The opposition parties have been calling for a debate on the Pegasus issue in parliament, claiming that it has implications for national security. Even though the Union government has refused to engage in a discussion on the Pegasus row since parliament reconvened on July 19 for the Monsoon Session, the Opposition has been unyielding in its demand for talks and a judicial investigation into the revelations.