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Ajit Mohan And Ors Vs Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory Of Delhi And Ors

Vasundhara Singh ,
  15 July 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court
Brief :
The Court quashed the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, upheld the powers of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and also laid down the importance of restricted oral submissions and short, concise judgments.
Citation :


Crux:
Ajit Mohan And Ors Vs Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory Of Delhi And Ors (The Legislative Assembly not only performs legislative functions but there are many other aspects of governance and committees under it have the power to compel attendance.)

Date of judgment:
July 08, 2021

Judges:
Sanjay Kishan Kaul, J.
Dinesh Maheshwari, J.
Hrishikesh Roy, J.

Parties:
Petitioner- AJIT MOHAN & ORS.
Respondent- LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY NATIONAL CAPITAL TERRITORY OF DELHI & ORS.

Subject

  • Does the Legislative Assembly have the privilege to summon a person who is not a part of the Executive?
  • If any, to what extent can this privilege be exercised, so that it does not breach an individual’s Right to Privacy and free speech?

Overview

  • Delhi witnessed a situation of violence between 24th to 29th February 2020, with communal riots in different parts of North-East Delhi causing loss to life and property and ultimately taking a political turn.
  • The aftermath of these riots led to the formation of the Committee on Peace and Harmony by the Delhi Legislative Assembly on 20 March 2020, under the chairmanship of Mr. Raghav Chadha, Member, Legislative Assembly.
  • It was alleged by the Committee that it had received thousands of complaints suggesting that Facebook has been used for propagating hate and spreading communal hatred and also that the media platform was biased toward the ruling party and Hindu enthusiasts.
  • The allegations against Facebook led to a notice to Mr. Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director Facebook India Online Services Private Limited to appear before the Parliamentary Committee and he did so.
  • The Peace and Harmony Committee alleged that Facebook had colluded with the people having an interest in riots and he should be charged as a co-accused and before taking any steps against the media platform, it shall be given a chance to be heard and hence, summons to appear were issued to Mr. Ajit Mohan.
  • A second summon was also sent to Mr. Ajit Mohan with the warning that non-compliance with the summons will be treated as a breach of privilege of the Committee and necessary actions will be taken.
  • Mr. Ajit Mohan filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution challenging both the summons and authority of the Delhi Legislative Assembly.


Judgment Analysis

  • The Bench dismissed the writ petition and refused to quash the summons made by the Committee to Mr. Ajit Mohan and Facebook.
  • The Bench after hearing the arguments, formed issues to be answered that are: (a) Does the house have the privilege to summon a person to give evidence and (b) if such privilege exists, to what extent can it be exercised, considering the individual’s Right to Privacy and free speech and what is the legal competency of the Legislative Assembly?
  • The Court analysed the arguments under the heads, (a) the Privileges Issue, (b) Privilege of Right to Privacy and Free Speech, and (c) Legislative Competence.
  • The Court took note of recent developments that took place around the world during the time of COVID concerning the issues before the case as they had sufficient time to pronounce the judgement.
  • The Court looked into the accountability and role of the intermediaries in the politics of different nations such as the UK and the US. It mentioned the report of the UK Commons Privileges Committee and also the situation when CEOs of Google, Twitter, and Facebook were called before the House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives for alleged claims on vaccinations and US Presidential Elections.
  • The Court took note of the development of The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 that made intermediaries liable for the content shared on their platform and also need due diligence by the intermediaries.
  • The recent amendments made under GNCTD Act were also noted by the Court but the Court refused to deliberate on them as they were not the matter of contention in relevant proceedings.

Opinion of the Court

  • The Court is of the opinion that the role of an intermediary, like Facebook, is very vast and influential, and petitioners contending that it is merely a platform for exchanging ideas, is too simple.
  • Governments across the world have shown their concern over the influence of these intermediaries over the people and they are trying to make these platforms more accountable for the content shared on them.
  • The Court mentioned that Facebook in India has approximately 270 million users and even though it has given voice to various sections, it cannot be ignored that it has also given stage to many disruptive voices and it has to take up responsibility for the same.
  • The Court gave the opinion stating that these platforms in no way are altruistic and focus only on business models, and many times can be intrusive to privacy and divide public debates.
  • Social media intermediaries cannot be allowed to take different roles in different countries to avail protections, as in the case of the US, they call themselves publishers whereas, in India, they are just a simple media platform and hence the view of Mr. Salve cannot convince the Court.
  • Delhi, as the capital of the country, cannot afford to face another situation like the recent communal riots and the role of Facebook in this context should be carefully looked upon by the authorities.
  • On the Issue of Privilege, it was contended that the power of privilege cannot be extended to compel a person, who is not a member of the Assembly into giving statements.
  • The Court takes into consideration Article 194(3) of the Constitution as mentioned by Mr. Salve and states that the words of the mentioned article are ambiguous and unclear and the Court will not interpret them and also it will not direct the Legislature to do so.
  • The Committee has not made use of the privilege power as the Court and the parties do not know the nature of the questions that will be put up or if any question of privilege would arrive or will the Committee refer the matter to the Assembly or the Assembly will consider it.
  • The Court referred to the Kalpana Mehta case and mentioned that the committees are the extension of the Legislative Assembly and help it to perform various functions of the Assembly.
  • On the issue Of Privileges & Fundamental Rights, the Court noticed that no action was taken against the petitioners and summons were legal as the petitioners were not charged with any criminal offence and there was no violation of Fundamental Rights.
  • The Court decided not to comment further on this issue due to the pending case of N. Ravi, and the pleas by the petitioner were premature as nothing had happened to them.
  • The Court mentions that the Committee had legal competence to seek any information regarding matters related to peace and harmony without interfering with subjects mentioned in the Union List of 7th Schedule.
  • The Committee is restricted to prosecute and has limited power over certain matters and the petitioner can deny answering any question that comes under the prohibited domains.

Conclusion

In the light of the observations and opinions of the Court, it can be concluded that the Legislative Assembly performs many other functions other than law-making, and the Assembly or the Committee have the power to compel attendance. The Assembly has no power to prosecute on the matters relating to law, order, and police in view of Entries 1 and 2 of list 2 of the 7th Schedule.

While giving the judgment, the Court wrote a postscript, wherein it noticed the time consumed by the particular case during the stage of submissions and productions of documents. The Court noted that the proceedings went on for 26 hours excluding the time taken for presenting synopses, rejoinders, replies, etc. , and showed its concern that such proceedings consume a lot of judicial time and will adversely affect the Courts after the COVID period when there will be a surge of pending cases.

The Court mentioned that the counsels should take less time for oral submissions and be quick and direct in doing so and they should focus on the quality of the arguments rather than competing for the time that can be consumed during submission.

The Supreme Court has 67,898 pending matters as of 1st May 2021 and the time taken by the routine matters leaves very little time for the cases pending before larger Benches. The Bench advised that the judgments should be crisp, concise, and to the point that they can be understood by the common man because it is the common man who needs them.

Click here to download the original copy of the judgement

 
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