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Supreme Court upholds Delhi Assembly Committee’s summon to Facebook India head Ajit Mohan

Objective of peace and harmony goes beyond law & order and police

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The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to quash the summons issued by the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly to Facebook India Vice President Ajit Mohan, in relation to the Delhi Riots, 2020.

A Special Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Hrishikesh Roy noted, “The Assembly admittedly does not have the power to legislate under the issues which fall under the domain of the Union government. However, the objective of peace and harmony goes beyond law and order and police.”

Mr Mohan had approached the Supreme Court against a notice issued by the Assembly panel asking him to appear before it regarding the site’s alleged involvement in the February Delhi riots. The notice had asked Mohan to appear on September 23.

Previously, notices were issued to Facebook India executives by the Assembly’s Committee for Peace and Harmony, headed by Raghav Chaddha, Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson, based on a news report that alleged involvement of Facebook in Delhi riots by deliberately not acting on hateful content.

The Bench had reserved its order on February 2. Earlier, during the previous hearings, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, Counsel for Facebook, argued that the committee doesn’t have any authority to process such an enquiry or to decide that Facebook was involved in the Delhi riots.

The Court observed, “Technological age has created digital platforms which can be uncontrolled at times… One such creation is of an intermediary which states that they have no control over the content posts.”

“We are of the view that Committee would be entitled to get information on the incident,” the bench added. However, the bench further observed that the Committee cannot be a prosecuting agency and Facebook would be well within its rights while answering the questions before the committee.

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Senior Counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Facebook India Vice President Ajit Mohan, submitted that the right to speech under Article 19(1)(a) also includes the right not to speak. The Committee does not have the power to undertake such an enquiry and if Article 239AA (3)(a) of the Constitution is referred to, it’s clear that law and order and the police don’t fall in Delhi Assembly’s domain. He added that coercing a private citizen such as his client to appear before the panel with the threat of penalty was violative of his fundamental rights.

Whereas, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing on behalf of the chairman of the Assembly panel, submitted that the panel has the power to undertake the enquiry, after reports of Facebook being misused to incite communal violence were received. The panel has neither accused Facebook, nor did it intend to take any coercive action against it, noted Singhvi.

Read order below:

20428_2020_37_1501_28386_Judgement_08-Jul-2021

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