The Delhi Legislative Assembly on Thursday issued a fresh notice to Facebook India, asking a “senior competent person” to appear and testify before its Peace and Harmony Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the communal violence that hit the Capital in February last year, The Hindu reported.
The notice was submitted at the Supreme Court, which was hearing a petition filed by Facebook India’s Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan, against summons issued to him by the committee. In response, Mohan had invoked his right to silence and questioned the jurisdiction of the committee to summon a private person under a threat of breach of privilege action against him, according to The Hindu.
However, during Thursday’s proceedings, a three-judge bench headed by Justice SK Kaul said that the challenge against the summons would not stand, as they “stand substituted with the fresh notice”, according to Bar and Bench. “You have improved your situation with the new notice now,” the court told Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Delhi Assembly. The matter will next be heard on February 9.
Countering Mohan’s argument regarding the jurisdiction of the committee, Singhvi said that laws on privileges have been deliberately kept uncodified and that Facebook cannot choose which committee it wants to appear before and which not to, Bar and Bench reported.
“We have someone here who claims to be a Republic of Facebook in Republic of India,” Singhvi said. “One cannot say they will appear before European committee and not here because the subject does not suit us. Facebook being a corporate entity cannot take refuge under Centre.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre in the case, had contended that lack of jurisdiction goes to the root of the matter and if the committee is not held unconstitutional, then other states will also start interfering with subjects which are not within their domain, according to Bar and Bench.
Responding to this, Singhvi pointed out subjects that have been listed under the State and Concurrent list in the Constitution to suggest that the Delhi Assembly was within its rights to issue Mohan the summons, reported the Hindustan Times. “Delhi can be called a full state with full Assembly and not merely a Union Territory barring control over just three subjects in state list,” Singhvi argued, according to Bar and Bench. “Powers of the executive is co extensive with legislative functions unless there is specific exclusion.”
The matter so far
The Peace and Harmony Committee had asked Mohan to to appear for questioning on September 23 last year – a second round of summons – over allegations that the social media giant’s laxity in applying hate speech rules and policies contributed to the February 2020 violence. At least 53 people were killed and scores injured in the violence that rocked North East Delhi.
Mohan had not appeared for the first round, when the committee summoned him on September 12, following an August 14 report in The Wall Street Journal that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed removing incendiary posts by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders during the violence.
After the panel summoned him the second time and said that his non-appearance would be treated as breach of privilege, the Facebook executive moved the Supreme Court. On September 23, the Supreme court ordered the Delhi Assembly panel to not take any coercive action against Mohan till October 15.
The legislative Assembly responded to Mohan’s plea, arguing that he cannot claim the right to remain silent as no coercive action was taken nor is intended to be taken merely if he appears before the Peace and Harmony Committee.