Facebook VP questions Delhi Assembly’s power over peace and harmony

Facebook India Vice President and MD Ajit Mohan on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the Delhi Assembly has no legislative power to set up a panel to examine the issue of peace and harmony.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Mohan, submitted that his client has right to silence, that law and order in Delhi falls under the domain of the Centre, and setting up panel on peace and harmony was not the core function of the Delhi Assembly.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy reserved the judgment in the matter after counsel representing the Centre, the Facebook official and the Assembly panel completed their arguments. Mohan had moved the top court challenging the summonses issued by Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee in connection with Delhi riots last year.

Salve argued that there are two broad silos, one is existence of powers in compulsion of appearance and second is competence, and that the Delhi Assembly is wrong on both. He insisted that his client has the right to make a decision whether he intends to go or not. “In the noisy times of the present, right to silence is a virtue,” he submitted.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for the Assembly panel, had submitted before the court that the Assembly has the power to summon.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, contested this argument and stated law and order in in Centre’s domain.

The Delhi Assembly had also informed the Supreme Court that any senior and responsible officer from Facebook can appear before it, instead of Mohan.

The Delhi government’s Peace and Harmony Committee had summoned Mohan as an expert witness on the misuse of Facebook for disseminating hateful content during the February 2020 riots. The committee had issued summonses to Mohan on two occasions allegedly stating that his non-appearance would be treated as breach of privilege.

Mohan’s plea said that on September 2, 2020, at the request of the Parliamentary Committee, he appeared before it. “Specifically, the Committee is seeking to make a ‘determination of the veracity of allegations levelled against Facebook’ in the Delhi riots, which intrudes into subjects exclusively allocated to the Union of India”, he said in his plea.