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Delhi Riots: Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan’s Plea Against Assembly Panel Summons Dismissed by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Thursday 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.

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.

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

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The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, delivered its verdict on the plea filed by Mohan, Facebook India Online Services and Facebook 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.

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

The petitioners had challenged last year’s September 10 and 18 notices issued by the committee which sought Mohan’s presence before the panel probing the Delhi riots in February and Facebook’s role in spread of alleged hate speeches.

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 A M 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.

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