Advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the public interest petitioner, Sabu Mathew George, told the Supreme Court on Friday, that the nodal agency, set up by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the in-house mechanisms set up by the search engines, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, have not been effective in removing advertisements found to violate the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PC-PNDTA).
Recalling the minutes of the meeting of the committee constituted to review the status of the complaints received by the nodal agency for violations under the section 22 of the PC-PNDTA, on May 15, Parikh told the court Google has only blocked the video in their you tube platform, and didn’t block other URLs forwarded by the nodal agency.
He further disclosed that it was specifically stated at that meeting that Google never blocked certain sites and that they were accessible directly by entering the web-site address/URLs.
“This shows that the mechanism is not working effectively. We do not have copies of subsequent review meetings and therefore, cannot comment on the same except pointing out that violations are still continuing”, Parikh told the court.
Parikh assured that a detailed compilation of violations will be filed and will also be given to the nodal agency. He disclosed that the latest complaint received by the nodal agency from the Government of Andhra Pradesh on November 16 relates to sex selection kits such as Intelligender published in a popular e-newspaper, Andhra Jyoti.
Parikh complained that even when Google removes the offending advertisements from the search page, it provides the links on lumendatabase.org through its notification on the bottom of the search page. These links should not be provided as it enables users to access these websites violating Indian law, Parikh suggested.
Parikh reminded that the search engines have the obligation to delete the advertisements within 36 hours of a complaint being lodged, and intimate it to nodal agency. The nodal agency, should, in turn, put the ultimate actions taken by the search engine on their website, to ensure transparency and public monitoring, he further suggested.
He also brought to the notice of the bench that search engines have agreed before another bench of the Court in a related case to provide information about the offenders so that criminal action can be initiated. He requested the court to reject the contentions of the search engines that they don’t have control over appearance of offending materials on their sites.
Parikh regretted that despite the present writ petition having been filed in 2008, violations have continued over nine years, and are still continuing. “During this period, India lost at least five million girls before birth. Therefore, for consistently violating the law, search engine companies be settled with liability and this be utilised by the Government of India for effective implementation of PC-PNDTA, so as to prevent the continuation of the genoicide of girls before birth” Parikh emphasised.
The bench of the Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices A.M.Khanwilkar and D.Y.Chandrachud, appreciating Parikh’s suggestions, directed serving of its copies on the counsel for the respondents, and posted it for further hearing on December 13.
During the last hearing on September 5, senior counsel, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, K.V.Vishwanathan, and Anupalm Lal Das, appearing for Google, Microsoft Corporation and Yahoo India respectively, submitted that they have constituted the in-house mechanism which is handled by experts and they are also taking care that the objectionable matters are not put on the website. That apart, whatever has been notified by the Nodal Agency, the same has also been removed, they assured the Court.
However, as senior counsel, Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the petitioner, sought time to file certain suggestions, the bench adjourned the case for further hearing, to November 24.
Coming down heavily on pre-natal sex determination tests, and the publicity to it on websites run by the respondents, the Supreme Court had earlier held that the society that treats man and woman with equal dignity shows the reflections of a progressive and civilized society. To think that a woman should think what a man or a society wants her to think is tantamount to slaughtering her choice, and definitely a humiliating act, the Court had observed.
“When freedom of free choice is allowed within constitutional and statutory parameters, others cannot determine the norms as that would amount to acting in derogation of law. Decrease in the sex ratio is a sign of colossal calamity and it cannot be allowed to happen”, the bench said categorically in one of the previous hearings.
The petitioner, Sabu Mathew George, is a doctor in the field of public health and nutrition, and concerned about the modus operandi adopted by the search engines to act in detriment to the fundamental conception of balancing of sex ratio by entertaining advertisements, either directly or indirectly or as alleged, in engaging themselves in violation of Section 22 of the PC-PNDTA.
Earlier, the Centre has set up a single point contact for the Nodal Agency to receive the complaints on violation of Section 22 of PC and PNDT Act.
The Court has subsequently clarified that there is no need to infer that right to access information, knowledge and wisdom is being curtailed, and only the violation of Section 22 of the Act is being curbed.