A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court issued a notice regarding the petition filed by Ajit Mohan, the Facebook India Head. The petition challenged the Delhi Government’s peace & Committee summons that was related to the Delhi Riots. In furtherance, the Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose, and Krishna Murari has also directed the Delhi Committee to refrain from convening for a meeting relating to the present matter until any further orders. The matter was deferred until October 15, 2020.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared for the petitioner Mohan. He submitted that the extent of the privilege does not cover this form of inquiry. He also stated that the Delhi Government should refrain from putting Mohan “in the pain of punishment” by forcing him to present himself before the committee. He further shed light on the summons that was issued by the AAP Government.
The summons stated that a breach of privilege would occur if Mohan would not be present before the Committee. To reiterate this, he submitted that, “privilege is something to be decided by the Assembly. A Committee cannot decide whether action on privilege can be taken or not. This is a serious threat”.
Salve further stated this also violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. This article reads as “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
He further stated that “As a House, you may decide whatever you want to, but if I do not want to participate and give my views before the Committee then...please consider I work for a US-based company. I do not want to comment on this politically sensitive issue. In a constitutional framework such as ours, can a person be punished summarily without a proper trial and absent legislation”.
Salve concluded his arguments by raising the question of extension of privilege and its compatibility with Mohan’s rights under Article 19.
The counsel for Facebook, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi submitted that "If he (Mohan) does not go before the Committee, it is no breach of privilege. I personally as a lawyer have been called by Parliament for giving opinions a number of times. You cannot compel and say non-appearance will be a breach of privilege. There is no penalization."
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi also appeared for the Committee.
The court has issued a notice in the matter, directing the Committee to restrict any meetings regarding the petition until further orders of the court.