The Supreme Court has turned down a plea to direct search engines Microsoft, Google and Yahoo to block all contents relating to pre-natal sex determination and said its earlier orders are only applicable to online advertisements hosted by them.
The bench said an order to remove all contents would deprive researchers, academicians and students valuable information on the issue. “It could be an affront on people’s right to know”.
The bench headed by justice Dipak Misra was acting on the plea by Sabu Mathew George who is a member of the National Inspection and Monitoring Committee set up by the SC in 2003 to inspect and report the implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.
"If you block all information from coming then people would be deprived of the information and ultimately knowledge would suffer. There should be some restrictions and advertisements should be banned as per law but not all information. We cannot curtail the people's right to know," the bench said.
The court had on January 16 this year directed Microsoft, Google and Yahoo to block all pre-natal sex determination advertisements hosted by them as it was a violation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 as per which sex determination of the foetus is prohibited in India.
The bench had asked the search engines to do so within 36 hours of a nodal agency of the Centre, which is to be appointed, pointed out to them each such advertisements.
The nodal agency is also empowered to receive complaints from the general public.
“Union of India shall constitute a nodal agency which would give advertisments on TV, radio and in newspapers that if anybody comes across anything which identify a girl or a boy (at pre-natal stage), it should be brought to the notice of the nodal agency. Once it is brought to the notice of the nodal agency, it shall inform the search engines and they, after receiving the information, are obliged to delete it within 36 hours and inform the nodal agency, the bench had said.
The 1994 (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act says nobody shall propagate (pre-natal sex determination) and if anyone is propagating, it has to be stopped, it said. Whatever is prohibited under the Act cannot go through it (websites), the bench observed, adding, If anyone comes across anything which offends or has an impact on the sex ratio in India, it shall be removed by the search engines within 36 hours. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was appearing for Google India Pvt Ltd, said they have complied with the earlier order passed by the apex court in the matter and they have already taken steps to block any such advertisements.
The counsel appearing for the other search engines also said that they have taken steps to comply with the provisions of the Act. However, they contended that the matter requires further debate.