The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a strict directive to all online search engines over illegal advertisements and information on sex determination tests. It asked popular search engines like Google India, Yahoo India and Microsoft India to remove such content within 36 hours of receiving a complaint. It also directed the Centre to constitute a nodal agency to keep a tab on keywords used on search engines to enable a system of ‘auto-block’ that would black out such information.
“If it’s found that there are certain words which facilitated sex determination, then those words should be deleted in 36 hours,” a bench headed by justice Dipak Mishra said.“We direct the Union of India to constitute a nodal agency which would give advertisements 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 said while fixing the matter for further hearing on February 17.
The apex court had earlier said search engines are under an obligation to check pre-natal sex determination advertisements and they should develop an in-house method to prohibit such content.
The government told the bench that the search engines had agreed to follow the law on sex determination and would not allow any advertisement or “publish any content” violative of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act or PC-PNDT Act.
Rapping online search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for patently violating Indian law, the apex court had earlier asked the Centre to hold a meeting with its technical experts and the search engines so as to find a solution to check such ads and information on pre-natal sex determination being hosted by them. It had also directed the search engines to strictly comply with Indian laws and block advertisements on sex determination of a foetus.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by Sabu Mathew George in 2008 seeking a blocking or withdrawal of advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex on popular search engines.
Holding such advertisements to be violative of the PC-PNDT Act, 1994, the petition claims that using the internet for promoting or communicating about the practise of undertaking sex determination or sex selection was prohibited and punishable under the Act.
The 1994 Act was enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. It banned pre-natal sex determination.Sex determination, though illegal, is still practised in India, which is grappling with a severe male-female ratio. India’s child sex ratio dropped from 964 in 1971 to a low of 918 in 2011, according to UN data.
Between 2001 and 2011, the decline was seen in over two-thirds of the districts in the country. Numbers show that the problem is worse in urban areas. In 2011, Delhi, the National Capital Region had one of the lowest child sex ratios among states, with 871 girls born for every 1,000 boys.