Ajit Mohan & Ors. Vs Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory of Delhi & Ors.
Name of the Case: Ajit Mohan & Ors. Vs Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory of Delhi & Ors.
Case Number: Writ Petition (C) No.1088 OF 2020
Judges Name: Hon’ble Judges Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul; and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy J.
Order dated: 08.07.2021
Facts of the case:
- The Facts of the present matter are that it arises from the communal riots in different parts of North-East Delhi in February, 2020. During this incident the Legislative Assembly of NCT of Delhi resolved to form a Committee on Peace and Harmony. The Committee received several complaints that indicated that Facebook was used as a platform for channelizing hate and hence jeopardizing communal harmony.
- Thereafter Delhi Assembly had issued notice for appearance to Mr Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director of Facebook India. Mr Ajit Mohan was the first petitioner in the present writ petition. The first summons indicated that numerous complaints stating deliberate no-action on the part of Facebook in curbing/handling hate speech online. Facebook objected to the first summons in the its reply and requested to recall the summons. This was however rejected by the Delhi Assembly, and second summons was issued. Mr Ajit Mohan was asked to appear before the Committee in the ‘spirit of democratic participation and constitutional mandates.’ It was stated that non-compliance would indicate a breach of privilege of the Committee and hence necessary action would be taken. The second summons triggered the filing of the present proceedings under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. It was prayed in the current proceeding that the first and second summons should be set aside and also that the Delhi Assembly be stopped from taking any harsh action against the petitioners following the summons.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held:
- Before There is no dispute about the right of the Assembly or the Committee to proceed on grounds of breach of privilege per se.
- The power to compel attendance by initiating privilege proceedings is an essential power.
- Members and non-Members (like the petitioners) can equally be directed to appear before the Committee and depose on oath.
- In the given facts of the case, the issue of privileges is premature. The insertion of para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference taken along with the press conference of the Chairman of the Committee could legitimately give rise to apprehensions in the mind of the petitioners on account of which a caveat has been made.
- Canvassing a clash between privilege powers and certain fundamental rights is also preemptory in the present case.
- The larger issue of privileges vis-a-vis the right of free speech, silence, and privacy in the context of Part III of the Constitution is still at large in view of the reference to the larger Bench in N. Ravi v. T.N. Legislative Assembly.
- The Assembly admittedly does not have any power to legislate on aspects of law and order and police in view of Entries 1 and 2 of List II in the Seventh Schedule inter alia being excluded. Further, regulation of intermediaries is also subject matter covered by the I.T. Act.
- The Assembly does not only perform the function of legislating; there are many other aspects of governance which can form part of the essential functions of the Legislative Assembly and consequently the Committee. In the larger context, the concept of peace and harmony goes much beyond law and order and police, more so in view of on the- ground governance being in the hands of the Delhi Government.
- Para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference does not survive for any opinion of the Committee. It will not be permissible for the Committee to encroach upon any aspects strictly within the domain of Entries 1 and 2 of List II of the Seventh Schedule. As such, any representative of the petitioners would have the right to not answer questions directly covered by these two fields.
The writ petition is accordingly dismissed, subject to terms aforesaid.