Nudged by the Supreme Court, the Delhi Assembly panel looking into the February riots undertook not to take any coercive step against Facebook and its vice president Ajit Mohan.
Before a bench headed by Justice Sanjay K Kaul, the Peace and Harmony Committee recorded its undertaking that the proceedings of the panel with respect to the social media networking platform will remain stayed. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi made this statement after speaking with committee chairman Raghav Chadha.
The bench has now fixed the matter for October 13, asking the Committee to file its detailed reply to the joint petition by Mohan and Facebook. It has also issued notices to the central government, Delhi Police and secretaries of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to respond to various aspects relating to powers of the legislative committees.
Earlier, senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi appeared for Mohan and Facebook respectively. After hearing them, the bench was persuaded to issue notices and sought to question Singhvi over a press conference by the committee on August 31 in which Facebook's alleged complicity in Delhi riots was mentioned.
The court also took exception to the September 18 notice by the deputy secretary of the committee threatening Mohan of breach of privilege.
On the back foot, Singhvi said the committee has itself decided to defer the meeting scheduled for today. He also submitted that it wants to clarify that Mohan was asked to appear only as a witness and there was no intent to take any coercive action against him.
At this, the bench retorted that the senior counsel needs to advise his client in a better way and that it also must be clarified if the statements cited from the press conference are true or not.
Despite resistance by Singhvi, the bench said it must record in its order his statement that proceedings with respect to Facebook shall remain stayed till the next date of hearing.
Mohan and Facebook, in their petition, disputed the authority of the panel in summoning them in connection with the Delhi riots. The plea said the committee has no constitutional powers to either summon Facebook or examine the issues that fall in the exclusive domain of the Centre, namely policing, public order and communications.
"The Committee lacks the power to summon or hold petitioners in breach of its privileges for failing to appear since such powers do not extend to compelling non-members who have not impeded or obstructed legislative functioning," stated the petition, adding that the two summons dated September 10 and September 18 tend to violate fundamental rights of the petitioners to privacy and remain silent, without self-implication.