Social media giant Facebook does not have the right to approach the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, challenging the notice issued to the company in connection with an inquiry into the communal violence in the Capital last year, the Delhi Legislative Assembly submitted on Tuesday, reported Bar and Bench. This is because Facebook is a corporation and Article 32 does not give companies the right to move the court, it said.
The submission was made before a bench of Justices Justice SK Kaul, Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, which continued to hear plea filed by Facebook India head Ajit Mohan. The executive has challenged the summons issued to him by the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Assembly in connection with the social network’s role in the occurrences during the Delhi riots of 2020.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Delhi Legislative Assembly, told the Supreme Court that Mohan’s petition was not maintainable. “Facebook Inc and Facebook India are corporations which cannot invoke Article 32,” he said. “They can assert Art 19(1)(a) [right to freedom of speech and expression] only through a shareholder which has not been done. Petitioner Ajit Mohan is not a shareholder in Facebook or Facebook India.”
Singhvi added that Mohan had not been individually affected by the notices, reported Live Law. This is because the summons sent by the Assembly requires only appearance by a senior responsible person from Facebook, and not necessarily Mohan, he said.
Additionally, Facebook cannot claim violation of the right to privacy under Article 21 either, Singhvi said. “Where is the question of Article 21 violation here?” the advocate contended. “There is no privacy of a corporation. So long as Mr. Ajit Mohan doesn’t show that his privacy rights are violated or I have asked him self incriminating questions, absent that, why are your lordships asked to answer on Article 19(1)(a) because they have raised some abstract questions of law? It is not even a maintainable Article 32 petition.”
Singhvi’s submissions were echoed by senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan who said that Facebook got its India head Ajit Mohan to file the petition to overcome the legal hurdle the company faced in availing remedy under Article 32.
“So the veil on Ajit Mohan has to be lifted,” the advocate added. “He is not a shareholder. It is a symbiotic relationship between him and Facebook. So the petitioner before Your Lordships is Facebook and not Ajit Mohan. He is a sham petitioner.”
The matter so far
The Peace and Harmony Committee had asked Mohan to appear for questioning on September 23 – 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.