Delhi assembly panel cannot encroach into issues of public order, police:SC

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday held that the Committee on Peace and Harmony of Delhi assembly cannot “encroach” into any aspects related to “public order” and “police” and the representatives of social media giant, Facebook, will have the right “to not answer questions” on these issues. The important aspect, on division of power between Delhi and Centre, came to be discussed in an important verdict by which the top court dismissed the plea of Facebook Vice President Ajit Mohan against issuance of summon by the panel of the assembly in connection with last year's riots in Delhi.

However, the apex court was critical of the statement of the Chairman of the Committee, Raghav Chadha who had stated that “prima facie it seems that Facebook has colluded with vested interests during Delhi riots.

A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul, while holding that the Delhi Legislative Assembly and its committee have the power to compel attendance of members and outsiders on grounds of its privilege, however, took the view that the Delhi assembly, unlike other states, has no legislative power on the issues of “public order” and “police”.

“Public order” and “police” are placed as Entries 1 and 2 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and in Delhi's context, these subjects fall under the legislative domain of the Centre.

One of the terms of the reference of the Delhi assembly panel had empowered it to “recommend action against such persons against whom incriminating evidence is found or prima facie case is made out for incitement to violence.” Writing the judgement, Justice Kaul said, “Para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference does not survive for any opinion of the Committee. It will not be permissible for the Committee to encroach upon any aspects strictly within the domain of Entries 1 and 2 of List II of the Seventh Schedule. As such, any representative of the petitioners would have the right to not answer questions directly covered by these two fields (Public order and police).

The bench noticed the submissions of Delhi assembly panel of which said this part of the terms of the reference is “insignificant” as no action can be taken.

“If that be so, then in that sense, this paragraph does not stand even though the petitioners may not have directly assailed it. In order to justify the legislative competence and the remit of the Committee, the respondents have practically given up this para 4(vii) and we record the same and make it clear that this cannot be part of the remit of the Committee,” the judgement noted.

The verdict said that the court cannot “lose sight” of the repeated brushes which have occurred between the current dispensation in the Central Government and the State Government and it has been called upon to define the contours of their powers.

“Sagacious advice to act in concert appears to have fallen on deaf ears. We are, faced with a scenario which is a little different from the normal and, thus, much as we would not like to, some fetters have to be placed qua the exercise sought to be undertaken by the Committee in question,” it said.

It referred to the press statement of AAP MLA Raghav Chadha and insertion of the para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference of the panel which empowered the panel to recommend punitive action. “Having said that, the insertion of para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference taken along with the press conference of the Chairman of the Committee could legitimately give rise to apprehensions in the mind of the petitioners on account of which a caveat has been made in Para 4(vii) of the Terms of Reference does not survive for any opinion of the Committee,” it said.

'We have already noticed that the statements made by the Chairman of the Committee during the press conference cannot be diluted or brushed aside,' it said. No doubt some part of the press conference refers to the complaints received and statements made by persons deposing before the Committee, it said, adding, “But, at the same time, it was stated by the Chairman that the material placed before the Committee had resulted in a 'preliminary conclusion'”.

The verdict said the Chairman of the Committee had stated “prima facie it seems that Facebook has colluded with vested interests during Delhi riots.

The apex court examined the statement of Chadha and said, “the statements and conclusions are completely outside the remit of the Committee and should not have been made. That it may give rise to apprehension in the minds of the petitioners can also not be doubted.” PTI SJK ABA PKS RKS RKS

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