Online contents related to medical tourism in India cannot be blocked unless it violated the local law that bans pre-natal sex determination tests (PNDT), the Supreme Court said on Thursday, striking a note of caution against any blanket ban on it.
“People’s right to know, to be informed and gain wisdom from internet cannot be curtailed,” a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said while hearing a 2008 public interest litigation (PIL) that claimed the multinational search engines were soliciting advertisements promoting sex-selection tests.
“We may further add that freedom of expression included right to be informed,” the bench replied to the petitioner’s counsel Sanjay Parekh, who insisted the companies had failed to follow an earlier SC verdict that banned popping up of advertisements selling PNDT kits.
Parekh argued that on typing the words medical tourism several links containing material related to such tests were opening up. To this, the bench said the law did not intend to restrict one’s right to know.
“If somebody intends to search for ‘Medical Tourism in India’ he or she is entitled to do it as long as the content does not frustrate or defeat the restriction postulated under the Act,” the bench told Parekh.
The court clarified it was only for the nodal officers appointed by the Centre and state governments under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 to ask the intermediaries to remove objectionable content.
The intermediaries such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Google can’t take any action on their own, it added.
Counsel of the companies also informed that they too had their own in-house experts to tackle the complaints. But the intermediaries cannot take action on their own volition.
The bench then posted the matter for hearing on September 5.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had on Tuesday told the bench the right to know was a fundamental right which could not be curtailed by banning information on the Internet.
“There is distinction between information and advertisement. A person out of curiosity wants to know or study something. The right to know is a fundamental right and we cannot curtail it,” Rohatgi had said adding, “We cannot curtail free search. The right to know is a fundamental right. If we stop information, then we stop knowledge, then we stop thinking…”
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft gave an undertaking that they neither advertise nor sponsor any advertisements violating the law.
On behalf of the Centre, solicitor general Ranjit Kumar felt online ban should be only on paid advertisements.