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Delhi riots: SC rejects Facebook India VP Ajit Mohan’s plea against summons issued by Assembly panel

A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul termed Mohan’s plea as pre-mature saying nothing has happened against him before the Assembly panel.

Delhi riots: SC rejects Facebook India VP Ajit Mohan's plea against summons issued by Assembly panel-dnm
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New Delhi, First Published Jul 8, 2021, 4:34 PM IST
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The Supreme Court dismissed a plea filed by Facebook India Vice President and MD Ajit Mohan challenging the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony committee for failing to appear before it as witness in connection with the north-east Delhi riots last year.

Calling the challenge by the Facebook head “premature”, a bench comprising of Justice SK Kaul, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Hrishikesh Roy stated that while he must appear before the Peace and Harmony committee, any representative of the petitioner can choose not to answer questions outside of the Assembly’s domain.

Pronouncing the verdict, Justice Kaul said that technological age has created digital platforms which can be uncontrollable at times.

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, delivered its verdict on the plea filed by Mohan, Facebook India Online Services Pvt Ltd and Facebook Inc which contended that the committee lacked power to summon or hold petitioners in breach of privileges for failing to appear before it and had exceeded its constitutional limits.

The top court said the option of not answering before the committee cannot be disputed and representative of the petitioner can deny answering the question if it falls within the prohibited domains.

It said the Assembly does not have the power to legislate on the issue of law and order which falls under the Union List in the Constitution.

It said the objective of peace and harmony go beyond law and order and police.

The bench said in the judgement, it has divided the issues into three categories – privilege, free speech and legislative competence.

Mohan had approached the apex court challenging the September 10 and September 18 notices issued by Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee that sought his presence before the panel.

Last year, Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mohan, had said the Committee cannot force him to appear. “If I don’t appear, I can’t be compelled to face penalties for that,” he said, adding that the “right to free speech under Article 19(1)(a) includes the right not to speak”. Salve said forcing Mohan to appear before the House panel with a threat of penalty is a violation of his fundamental right to free speech.

The Delhi Assembly had earlier said that no coercive action has been taken against Mohan and he was only summoned by its committee to appear as witness in connection with north-east Delhi riots.

In an affidavit filed in the top court, the Delhi Assembly had said that Mohan has not been issued any summons for breach of privilege.

During the arguments before the apex court, Mohan’s counsel had said that “right to silence” is a virtue in present “noisy times” and the assembly has no legislative power to set up a panel to examine the issue of peace and harmony.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Facebook official, had said that setting up of the peace panel was not the core function of Delhi assembly as the law and order issue fell under the domain of the Centre in the national capital.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, representing the panel of the assembly, had said that the assembly has the power to summon.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had opposed the submission of the panel of the assembly saying that law and order squarely fell under the domain of Delhi Police which is accountable to the Central government.

Earlier in December last year, the Peace and Harmony committee had moved the top court seeking to intervene in the plea filed by Mohan and others.

On October 15 last year, the Centre had told the top court that proceedings of the Peace and Harmony committee is “without jurisdiction” as the issue pertained to law and order.

The apex court had said that its September 23 last year order asking the Assembly’s panel not to take any coercive action against Mohan, would continue till further orders.

(With inputs from agency)  

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