The Supreme Court Wednesday issued notice on a plea by Facebook India Vice-President Ajit Mohan challenging summons issued to him by the Delhi Assembly Panel seeking his presence to answer charges in connection with the Northeast Delhi riots.
A bench of Justices S K Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, which issued the notice, asked the respondents, including Delhi Assembly represented by its secretary, and the Centre to file their reply in a week’s time.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Assembly, which had asked Mohan to be present Wednesday, said “the meeting scheduled for today already stands deferred and no further meeting will be fixed qua the petitioners till the next date”.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mohan, said the Committee cannot force him to appear. “If I don’t appear, I can’t be compelled to face penalities 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 summons issued by the panel had said that “non-compliance… will be treated as breach of privilege of the Committee and necessary action, as deemed fit, shall be taken”.
Salve contended that the Committee did not have the jurisdiction to deal with issues such as police and public order, which fall in the exclusive purview of the Centre.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, said Mohan is being summoned to answer charges against his client, but the Assembly does not have the power or jurisdiction to do so. The legislature is not a court of law and has no power of adjudication, he said.
Rohatgi pointed out that the Chairman of the Committee held a press conference on August 31 and said that Facebook had colluded with the Delhi riots.
“Who are they to say that?” asked Rohatgi.
He added that Facebook is answerable only under the Information Technology Act and that there are many petitions filed in the Delhi High Court asking it to take down some or the other material.
Singhvi said he had instructions from the panel chairman, and added that Mohan has been summoned only as a witness and there will not be any coercive action. He said Facebook is not summoned as an accused but to find out whether it was misused.
Justice Kaul, however, pointed out that the notice had a different tenor than what Singhvi was submitting. Singhvi said the defects in the notice will be rectified. He insisted that the Committee has the power to conduct an enquiry.
The court will hear the matter next on October 15.
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