The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the ministry of health and family welfare to set-up a “nodal agency” to ensure that search engines do not flash commercial advertisements, including research material, on internet related to sex determination tests, saying in several places boys were unable to marry due to a decline in sex ratio.
The directive came after the ministry said the law that bans pre-natal tests prohibits promotion of sex-determination tests in all forms on any medium. Additional solicitor general PS Narasimha contested the search engines’ statement that the ban was restricted to commercial advertisements and not genuine research material that is often searched by students.
“We do not want dispensation of knowledge on how to select a boy or a girl. There is a problem in the human race. In certain areas, boys are not able to get married because there are no girls,” the bench said, rejecting the companies’ opposition to the order that was given while the court was hearing a PIL seeking a direction to the search engines to follow the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994.
“There can be no doubt that there has to be freedom for access to information, but….such freedom cannot violate a law that holds the field. Be it noted that this court has expressed concern over the decline in sex ratio. You cannot have and should not have anything on websites that carries any propaganda,” said the bench when Google’s counsel, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, argued there should be no ban on display of research material on the topic.
The direction, however, is an interim one as the court fixed February 17, 2017, to decide the contentious issue on whether blocking of commercial advertisements on the internet meant restricting popping up of websites that contain information on the subject.
As per the order, the nodal agency can be alerted by any person on such information available on the internet. Upon receiving information, the agency in turn has to give 36 hours to the search engines for blocking the objectionable content.
Singhvi submitted that it was not possible for search engines to block “millions and billions” of pages relating to information on sex determination that may not be commercial in nature, but are used as information for general purpose.
“This interpretation that everything put on the internet is illegal will destroy the concept of internet medium. Any student, researcher, or a person would want to search the internet for information on sex determination techniques. It is obnoxious,” he told the bench.
Justice Misra, however, said that search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft cannot act like a “catalyst” for decline in sex ratio in the country.
“What is a violation of law in Indian cannot be put on the corridors of the search engines. Information on whether you will have a boy or girl is not necessary in India. Sex ratio is falling, whether you have money or not, we are not concerned,” the apex court ordered.