Delhi riots | Legislative Assembly has no power to call Facebook official, Centre tells Supreme Court

He was called to testify in connection with Feb. communal riots

Updated - October 15, 2020 06:49 pm IST

Published - October 15, 2020 06:47 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Ajit Mohan. File

Ajit Mohan. File

The Central government on Thursday prima facie told the Supreme Court that the Delhi Legislative Assembly has no jurisdiction to summon Facebook’s senior official Ajit Mohan to testify in connection with the February communal riots as police and public order are not within its domain.

Also read | Delhi violence: When the Centre cannot hold – on communal fault lines, State apathy and hope that lingers amidst despair

Appearing before a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that “public order and police are not within the domain of the Legislative Assembly. So it [Delhi Assembly] is without jurisdiction”.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for the Assembly, explained that Mr. Mohan was called as an expert to put forth “constructive suggestions” in order to prevent such incidents from happening due to the indiscriminate use of social media platforms. He said the role of the Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony, before which Mr. Mohan was asked to appear, was to make “positive recommendations”. There was no coercive action intended against him.

But senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mr. Mohan and Facebook, maintained that his client cannot be “compelled” to appear against his “right of silence” in an issue on which he did not want to comment. He said the threat of breach of privilege action was “worse than clutching at straws”. The case required detailed hearing on the jurisdiction of the committee to summon his client.

Also read | Attempt to hide crucial facts on Facebook’s role in Delhi riots, says Assembly committee

Justice Kaul observed that the court needed to examine the competency of the Assembly to constitute a fact-finding committee.

Hearing on Dec. 2

The court scheduled the case for December 2 for detailed hearing of arguments of both sides. Meanwhile, the committee will not issue any further summons to Mr. Mohan.

During the hearing, Mr. Salve said the Assembly’s affidavit in the court “makes it worse”.

Also read |Facebook neutral, non-partisan, its India chief says defending handling of hate speeches

The Assembly filed the affidavit saying that Mr. Mohan was summoned to ascertain whether the social media platform, in anyway, “contributed” to the situation that culminated in the February communal riots.

‘Inherent right of legislature’

“It is the inherent right of the legislature to examine matters of public importance... This is a matter of great public importance going to the very foundation of the day-to-day functioning of the NCT [National Capital Territory] of Delhi”, the Assembly, represented by advocate Shadan Farasat, has explained.

It said the committee proceedings were conducted in the “most transparent manner with live broadcast”. The right to remain silent was relevant only in a criminal investigation.

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