27 Jan 2021 3:02 PM GMT
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard Facebook India Vice President, Ajit Mohan's challenge to the two summons issued by the Delhi Legislative Assembly's Committee "Peace and Harmony" asking him to appear to look into the role of fake news behind the Delhi riots of February 2020.The two summons were issued in September 2020 demanding Mr. Mohan to appear before the committee for testifying on...
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard Facebook India Vice President, Ajit Mohan's challenge to the two summons issued by the Delhi Legislative Assembly's Committee "Peace and Harmony" asking him to appear to look into the role of fake news behind the Delhi riots of February 2020.
The two summons were issued in September 2020 demanding Mr. Mohan to appear before the committee for testifying on the role or complicity of Facebook officials in Delhi riots. On September 23, the Court had recorded the submission made on behalf of the Chairman of the Assembly Panel that no coercive action will be taken against the Ajit Mohan for failing to appear.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared on behalf of Mr. Ajit Mohan today. Salve, in the hearing before the same bench last week, submitted that internet intermediaries including Facebook can only be controlled by the Central Government and not the Legislative Assembly. He also submitted that Delhi Legislative Assembly's Committee on Peace and Harmony, under the realm of privileges of the House, cannot summon third persons or compel appearances of non members.
In the hearing before the Supreme Court today, Salve continued his submissions on the primacy of privileges enjoyed by the Houses and the evolution of the concept of parliamentary privilege.
In submitting so, Salve had relied heavily on the judgment of Amrinder Singh v. Special Committee, Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2010) wherein the Supreme Court while dealing with a similar proposition observed that "Parliamentary Privileges as those fundamental rights which the House and its Members possess so as to enable them to carry out their functions effectively and efficiently. Some of the parliamentary privileges thus preceded Parliament itself. They are, therefore, rightly described by Sir Erskine May as "fundamental rights" of the Houses as against the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of ordinary courts of law and the special rights of the House of Lords."
Salve therefore submitted that the word "obstruction" has to be construed while interpreting the meaning of parliamentary privileges.
"These are not powers to bully people to appear before the Committee", he submitted.
Furthermore, he submitted that there is a balancing of rights between the Crown and the Parliament which is where the concept of Parliamentary Privileges originates.
He thereafter began to submit how the functions performed by the Committee of Peace and Harmony were different than a constitutional function. He submitted:
"Every function of a member of assembly is not a constitutional function. If an MP leading protests is manhandled by the police, it is atrocious. But is it a breach of privilege? Certainly not. If a person complains to an MLA about a hospital, & if the MLA calls the doctor, & if the doctor bangs the phone , will it be breach of privilege? If a collector behaves rudely to an MP, will it be breach of privilege? Certainly not. Privilege is something which is necessary for a Member to do his legislative function and nothing beyond that. It will not extend to every aspect of your public life."
According to Salve, the Committee was not conferred upon the function of considering a law and that it might be a good social work for having a panel to reach out the Delhi Riots victims. However, according to Salve, the functions performed by the Committee were not legislative functions.
"You may set up committees for all sorts of works, for good measures, but you don't carry your privileges. Because privilege is not a gift." Salve submitted.
At this juncture, a clarification was sought by Justice Hrishikesh Roy wherein he said "You mean to say there is a 'lakshman rekha' that privileges can only go that far and not beyond."
Justice Roy : If it was legislative committee, it will have privileges. In the notice constituting this committee, it was said that the panel will have privileges. What was the need to say that?Salve : Privilege is not a gift which the Speaker can give.#Facebook— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 27, 2021
Justice Roy : If it was legislative committee, it will have privileges. In the notice constituting this committee, it was said that the panel will have privileges. What was the need to say that?Salve : Privilege is not a gift which the Speaker can give.#Facebook
Thereafter, the hearing concluded by Salve submitting that there is a need for codification on the law of parliamentary privileges as leaving them undefined will be problematic.
The bench will continue hearing the matter tomorrow i.e. 28th January, 2021.