Delhi Assembly “committee on peace and harmony” expressed displeasure over flouting the directions of the notice issued to Facebook India’s vice-president and managing director Ajit Mohan by not appearing before the committee on Tuesday, which is looking into Facebook’s alleged role in Delhi riots in February.
Chairman of the committee Raghav Chadha said the Delhi legislative committee is operating in its constitutionally lawful jurisdiction and does not conflict or weaken the jurisdiction of the Central Government on similar issues.
As per the judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India in State (NCT of Delhi) v. Union of India (2018) 8 SCC 501, the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi has legislative powers in respect of these subjects, and the Government of Delhi has the exclusive executive power in respect of the same, he said, adding that the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Legislative Assembly (Assembly Conduct Rules) that have been framed under Section 33 of the GNCTD Act provides this committee the powers to summon and ensure the presence of witnesses.
It was also noted by the committee that despite being crystal clear about the objective behind calling the Facebook Officials, which on the face of it is distinguishable from that of the Parliamentary committee, Facebook chose to dishonour the powers and privileges of the committee in the garb of obliging with the directives of the Parliamentary Committee.
Chadha also clarified that the notice of appearance issued to Facebook is directly related to the incidents of violence/riots that occurred in the NCT of Delhi in February, 2020, whereas the proceedings in Parliament are on the subject “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”.
“It is manifest from a perusal of this notice that the proceedings before the Parliament are in no way connected to the role of Facebook in the riots/violence in the NCT of Delhi in February, 2020. Therefore, the Committee considers this nothing but an untenable excuse by Facebook to defy the summons issued to them for examination on oath,” he said.
It was further decided by the committee that in the event of subsequent default in complying to the orders of the committee it shall be constrained to proceed against the Facebook India for committing the breach of committee’s privilege which shall follow consequent penal jurisdiction of the house under the relevant laws and rules and regulation.
It is also noted that the powers and privileges of the members and committees of the Delhi Legislative Assembly are sourced from Section 18 of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 (“GNCTD Act”). Sub-section (3) thereof provides that the powers, privileges, and immunities of the Legislative Assembly, its members, and committees, would be the same as those enjoyed by the House of People, i.e. the Lok Sabha and its members and committees. This is pari-materia with Article 105 of the Constitution of India.
The committee also clarified to the Facebook once again that refusal to appear before the committee for reasons which are evidently untenable in law and facts, gives the committee the impression that they are attempting to conceal crucial facts in relation to Facebook’s role in the February 2020 violence/riots in Delhi and thus as a note of caution that the Committee advices as well as commands the to ensure your appearance in person on the next date of meeting, failing to which will be admitted as an intelligible breach of privilege and shall ensue the lawful and legal adverse actions against yourself.
Chadha also reminded the backdrop wherein the very inception of the committee finds its roots to the incident of unfortunate communal riots witnessed by the city after decades in the month of February this year. “In order to avoid any such mis-happening again in future as well as mitigate the damage and communal hatred spread in the society as the aftermath of deadly riots, the committee has been tirelessly working with the same objective,” he said.