New Delhi: On Thursday, February 16, the Supreme Court pulled up internet giants Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for allowing content on pre-natal sex determination, in violation of Indian laws, the Times of India reported. The court also directed the internet search engines to implement in-house mechanisms to monitor and ensure that content related to pre-natal sex determination is not available to users.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi ordered the companies to take appropriate steps to withdraw advertisements and information which violated the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act of 2003, an amendment to the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT).
Section 22 of the PNDT Act explicitly states that no person or organisation can issue, publish, distribute, communicate or advertise in any form, including the internet, about facilities for pre-natal sex determination or sex selection. The provision makes the publication of such advertisements an offence punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine which may extend to Rs 10,000.
According to NDTV, the court blamed search engines for not doing enough to bar advertisements and thus leading people to online material propagating sex determination practices. Further, the bench asked the Centre to constitute a nodal agency where people could lodge complaints against search engines. Such an agency would also be empowered to take action on any television, radio and newspaper advertisements.
Lawyers representing the search engines contended that they were not allowing any advertisements in violation of local laws. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Google India, said it would not put its global reputation at stake by breaching the law.
“We have always been compliant and are supportive of removing paid content based on terms linked to gender selection tests. We have taken additional action to disable auto-complete predictions for relevant terms on our site and show a warning that tells users pre-natal gender screening or testing is illegal in India,” Google also said in a statement.
The apex court assured the Indian arms of the multinational cyber giants that it would not initiate any contempt proceedings as the idea was simply to make them “responsive” to local laws and concerns, The New Indian Express reported.
Such an incident, however, is not new. According to Livemint, in November last year companies such as Google India, Yahoo India and Microsoft India were allegedly compelled to remove advertisements for sex determination within 36 hours of receiving a complaint from a government agency.