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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 a 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 had happened against him before the Assembly panel. Pronouncing the verdict, Justice Kaul said that the technological age had created digital platforms that can sometimes be uncontrollable.

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 the 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. The petitioner’s representative could 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 goes beyond law and order and police. The bench said in the judgment 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 spreading alleged hate speeches. The Delhi Assembly said no coercive action had been taken against Mohan. Its committee only summoned him to appear as a witness in connection with the northeast Delhi riots.

In an affidavit filed in the top court, the Delhi Assembly had said that Mohan had not been issued any summons for breach of privilege. During the arguments before the apex court, Mohan’s counsel had said that the “right to silence” is a virtue in the present “noisy times,” 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 the peace panel was not the core function of the 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 told the top court that the Peace and Harmony committee proceedings were “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.


I have always enjoyed writing and reading other people's blogs. I started writing a journal as a teenager and have since written numerous books and articles. My blog is a place where I can write freely about my personal interests and those of others.

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