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Centre challenges the jurisdiction of the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly before the Supreme Court

The Peace and Harmony Committee had issued summons to the Vice President of Facebook India to appear as a witness before it in relation to the Committee's investigation in the Delhi riots.

During the hearing of a writ petition today filed by Facebook and Facebook Vice President Ajit Mohan before the Supreme Court challenging the summons issued by Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee asking Mohan to appear before it as a witness, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the Committee lacks jurisdiction. The Centre represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before a Bench of Justices SK Kaul and Dinesh Maheshwari that public order and domain do not fall within the domain of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and therefore the proceedings before the Committee is without jurisdiction. The Committee is investigating the northeast Delhi riots and the role of Facebook in the riots.

The petition by Facebook also contended before the court that the committee lacked the power to issue summon or hold petitioners in breach of its privilege on failing to appear before it. The petitioners challenged two notices of the Committee dated September 10 and 18 seeking Mohan’s appearance before it. The Committee had informed the court that no coercive action was taken against Mohan and that it had only issued summons.

In the hearing held via video conference yesterday, senior Advocate AM Singhvi speaking on behalf of the Delhi Legislative Assembly said that Mohan was summoned as a witness only. Senior Advocate Harish Salve appearing for the petitioner questioned the jurisdiction of the committee and said that the petitioner was not willing to appear before it. Salve said that Facebook provided only a platform and it did not write anything itself. He further contended that the notices issued by the committee had a coercive tone and that a counter-affidavit filed by it stated that Facebook had no right to silence.

In an affidavit filed by the Delhi Assembly before the Supreme Court, it was said that the proceedings were being conducted in the most transparent manner with live broadcast, therefore, there was no question of apprehension. The affidavit said that not notice of breach of privilege was issued to Mohan which has a separate procedure. It said that the first mention of breach of privilege was made in a communication dated September 18 when Mohan refused to appear on the validly issued summons.

Senior Advocate Singhvi said that Mohan had appeared before the Parliamentary Committee but was refusing to appear before the Delhi Assembly Committee. He said that the scope of the panel is recommendatory to make recommendations for peace and harmony of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Justice Kaul, who had remarked in the previous hearing that the notice issued by the committee to Mohan did not convey the impression that no coercive action would follow, said to Singhvi, “From what has transpired last time, I though you would advise your client to issue a better notice”. To this Singhvi clarified that it was made clear in the notice that the petitioner was being called only as a witness.

The Court has directed the respondents to submit their affidavits by October 31 and rejoinders, if any, within two week. The court that its order issued on September 23 asking the committee not to take any coercive action against Mohan would continue. The next hearing of the matter has been scheduled on December 2.

Facebook had moved the Supreme Court last month against the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly Committee.

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