In an affidavit filed before the commission, journalist Ashish Khetan, head of investigative portal Gulail.com, said, "The terms of reference clearly points towards an attempt to shield the state government and its functionaries from grave charges of violation of the privacy of a young woman as well as of perverting the facilities and forces available to the state government for the completely unlawful purpose of stalking a women."
The affidavit said, "Given the inter-state nature of the alleged illegal surveillance (by Gujarat Police), this Commission does not have jurisdiction to inquire into the matter." Gulail.com was one of the two investigative websites, which exposed the scandal late last year, creating a political storm and triggering a war of words between BJP and Congress.
The BJP Government-appointed panel is headed by retired High Court Sugnya Bhatt. "It will be a travesty if the Commission, formed and run with public money, defeats public interest," he said.
Gulail.com and another portal Cobrapost.com had on November 15 claimed that former Gujarat Minister of State for Home and BJP leader Amit Shah had ordered illegal surveillance of a woman at the behest of one "Saheb" in 2009.
They had released taped conversations between Shah and suspended IPS officer G L Singhal to support their claim, but said their authenticity could not be confirmed. The Commission was set up by the Narendra Modi Government on November 26 after it came under attack over the "snoopgate" from Opposition parties and civil society groups.
The panel had asked both portals to file an affidavit by January 15 in connection with the release of tapes. Khetan said the Bhatt Commission lacks the mandate to look into public interest concerns (like invasion of privacy) raised by the expose.
"I have seen the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Commission. I regret to say the Commission lacks the mandate to look at the most significant public interest concerns disclosed by the matter published."
The Centre has set up a separate judicial commission to inquire into "snoopgate", which has its footprints outside Gujarat, in states like Maharashtra and Karnataka.