The Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony committee on Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in a plea filed by Facebook India VP and MD Ajit Mohan challenging the summons issued by the panel for failing to appear before it as witness in connection with the north-east Delhi riots matter. A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy issued notice to the committee, headed by Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha, and asked it to file the reply in the matter within four weeks.
At the outset, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the committee, said that he has prepared written submission which needs to be placed before the bench. The top court said that it will have to issue notice before hearing the committee to which Dhavan said that if there is no objection then the bench may issue notice to the panel. Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mohan, said that he does not have any objection to hearing of Dhavan but the legal aspect of the committee’s intervention needs to be looked into.
The bench said that rejoinder if any needs to be filed in two weeks thereafter and posted the matter for further hearing in third week of January. On October 15, 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. It had said that “public order and police are not within the domain of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and therefore this proceeding is without jurisdiction.
The apex court had said that its September 23 order asking the assembly’s panel not to take any coercive action against Mohan, would continue till further orders. The plea filed by Mohan, Facebook India Online Services Pvt Ltd and Facebook Inc has contended that the committee lacks power to summon or hold petitioners in breach of its privileges for failing to appear and it was exceeding its constitutional limits. They have challenged the September 10 and 18 notices issued by the committee that sought Mohan’s presence before the panel which is probing the Delhi riots in February and FB’s role in spread of alleged hate speeches.
The Delhi Assembly told the top court recently that no coercive action has been taken against Mohan and he was only summoned by its Peace and Harmony Committee to appear as witness in connection with north-east Delhi riots. Earlier, senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi Legislative Assembly, had said that Mohan has been called as a witness only. Salve had raised question over the jurisdiction of the committee and said that Mohan is not willing to appear before it. The top court had said that the prima facie issue is regarding the jurisdiction and power of Delhi assembly. In an affidavit filed recently in the top court, the Delhi Assembly said that Mohan has not been issued any summons for breach of privilege.
It has said, “No coercive action has been taken against the petitioner number 1 (Mohan) and none was intended if he merely attended and participated in the proceedings as a witness. It is also important to note that the proceedings are being conducted in the most transparent manner with live broadcast and therefore there is no question of any apprehension in respect of the proceedings either by the Petitioner No.1 or anyone else. There is no notice to the Petitioner No.1 (Mohan) asking him to appear before this Committee of Respondent No.1 (Assembly) for a breach of privilege or contempt of the Committee. It has not been alleged at any time by the Committee of Respondent No.1 that the Petitioner has already committed a breach of privilege,” the affidavit has said.
It added that there is no occasion for the Committee to report to the Speaker about Mohan having committed any breach of privilege. It said that the procedure for breach of privilege is separate and that stage had not as yet been reached and even the mention of it was made for the first time in communication dated September 18, in light of the refusal of Mohan pursuant to validly issued summons September 10. It said that the Peace and Harmony committee of the assembly had received multiple complaints/ representations addressed to its chairman Raghav Chadha, underscoring the alleged instances of inaction/ inability on the part of social media platform-Facebook to enforce its policies against inflammatory and hateful contents.