Mumbai: The Bombay high court Thursday has issued notices to Maharashtra government and Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) on a public interest litigation alleging few of its senior officials went on a study tour to Israel in 2019 without requisite permissions from the Maharashtra Chief Minister and the Union government.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Thursday also issued notices to five officials of the DGIPR and asked them to file their reply in four weeks.
The petition filed by Ahmednagar-based social activists Laxman Bura and Digambar Gentyal states that its officials who went on the Israel study tour from November 15, 2019 to November 25, 2019 on an invitation letter issued by the then Consul-General of Israel to Mumbai.
Petitioners’ advocate, Tejesh Dande, said that soon after the assembly elections in the state, a delegation of five "chosen" senior officials of DGIPR was sent to Israel for 10 days to study “advance web media”.
The petition states that the tour was undertaken without taking any mandatory permission from the chief minister, the central government, or the Election Commission of India, and it breached the mandate for foreign tours set out in a Maharashtra government resolution of 2014.
Dande said that they have prayed that a judicial inquiry may be conducted into the entire process of sanctioning the Israel tour as public exchequer’s money to the tune of Rs 14 lakh was spent on this tour.
The PIL further prays that officials, who went as delegates, be directed to submit a report in respect of their tour to Israel and inform HC as to what special knowledge they acquired and how is likely to benefit the country.
According to the petition, Israel doesn't have any specific expertise on web media the state government officials could have benefited from. “The actual object of sending team to Israel was to acquire spying software like Pegasus,” alleged Dande.
The PIL further reads: “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 information obtained by the petitioners under the RTI has revealed that even though the proposal for the tour had been chalked out hurriedly, and was in breach of several rules, it had nevertheless been approved by the state government.
The judges remarked that the Supreme Court was seized of a similar issue.
To which Dande said that issues relating to Pegasus before the SC were different from that raised in the present PIL.
HC then issued the notices and asked the respondent parties to file their affidavits within four weeks.
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