SC resumes hearing of challenge to Delhi Assembly summons to Facebook over role in Delhi Riots

Sushree Mohanty

The Supreme Court resumed the hearing of an appeal by Ajit Mohan, head of Facebook India in response to summon orders issued to him by the Delhi Government board questioning him on the role of social networking and media base in the Delhi Riots case.

After Senior Advocate Harish Salve (appearing on behalf for Mr. Mohan) , Solicitor General Tushar Mehta (council for the Central Government) and Senior Advocate Arvind Datar ( council for Facebook) closed their arguments in the matter while  Senior Advocate AM Singhvi had initiated his contentions for the Delhi Assembly. 

The proceeding on February 3, 2021, had been adjourned after Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul lost his internet stability.

The case took an interesting turn on February 3, 2021 proceeding when Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that any senior, responsible officer from Facebook” can come and appear before the Delhi Assembly and not necessarily Mr. Ajit Mohan.”

Furthering his contentions, Singhvi referred to numerous landmark decisions, judgments on legislative powers of Delhi Assembly and Article 239AA of the Indian Constitution.

He also highlighted the Pragmatic and Cooperative Federalism and stated that, “Federalism without basic structure would mean nothing. We have achieved federalism more in practice than in reality”.

Clarifying the questions pertaining to entertain the appeal and answering if the said committee has the jurisdiction, Justice Kaul said that the Hon’ble court will in due time, look into questions surrounding the contexts of the subjects in the mentioned lists.

Additionally, Justice Kaul clarified that the committee indeed had the jurisdiction which allowed them to summon persons.

Post the submissions, Advocate Mayank notified the bench that Mr. Harish Salve would be addressing the bench on the issuance of the new notices that were in supersession of the earlier directives.

Relying on his submissions, Dr.Singhvi contended that Mr.Salve did not cite any competing entry of List 1 and suggested that they are to be read widely, unless arbitrated. He requested for a holistic reading of Entry 45 of List 2.

He further claimed that the petitioner created false assumptions to prejudice the case and said, “I am very strong in my belief that this is a fanciful case set up to prejudice the case.”

Prior to the lunch break, Singhvi questioned how the Assembly can be barred from discussing issues relating to peace and harmony without citing any coercive steps.

Post recess, Singhvi stressed upon Article 105(4) of Constitution of India and argued, “Suppose I called Mr. Mohan to come and he gives an incriminating statement, although nothing has happened in this case, that statement by ipso facto cannot be used in a proceeding to prosecute him”

Continuing his arguments, references were made to the constitution bench judgment of the Supreme Court in Kalpana Mehta & Ors. v. UOI (2018) and cited the relevant portion stating “Often committees have a multi-party composition. They examine specific matters of policy or government administration or performance.”

Submitting J. Chandrachud’s concurring opinions, Dr. Singhvi clarified that ,“In other cases, the deficiencies of the legislative framework in remedying social wrongs may be the subject of an evaluation by a parliamentary committee.”. He concludes with his submission that parliament is a democracy.

Justice Roy, in his statements, objected to the submissions saying it was projected as a jurisdictional issue and Justice Kaul stated that unlike US and British courts, it is the concept of ultimate liberalism that holds more ground in Indian contexts.

J. Kaul, speaking about virtual hearings said, “This dual method of hearing has a longer life span. It facilitates access to justice. I know how difficult it is to spend time on travelling and appearing in distant courts.”

Singhvi argued that the actions of Facebook imply that the law is anarchic.

In reference to the arguments and submissions placed before the Hon’ble court, Justice Kaul declared that based on the affidavit placed before the bench on February 3, 2021, the earlier notices will be withdrawn.

The matter is listed for further hearing on February 9, 2021.

Read also: Any “Senior, Responsible Officer” from Facebook can appear before Delhi Legislative Assembly: Dr. Abhishek Singhvi clarifies before SC