The government on Monday informed the Supreme Court that three major search engines — Microsoft, Google and Yahoo — have agreed to auto block ads promoting sex determination tests as prohibited under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.
The bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C. Nagappan was told that in compliance with the provisions of the PC&PNDT Act, 1994, advertisements commercially promoting sex determination tests would be blocked automatically and accessing them would not be possible.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar submitted to the court the "proposed list of words" in respect of which when commands would be given, there will be "auto block" with a warning and nothing would be reflected in the internet, as it is prohibited in India.
The proposed list of the keywords, which could no more be used for accessing information on sex determination tests include "Gender selection, Gender selection Kits, Gender selection service, Gender selection clinics, Gender selection technique, Prenatal sex selection, Prenatal sex selection kits, Prenatal sex selection service, Prenatal sex selection clinics, Prenatal sex selection technique".
The bench said that the search engines should have an in-house mechanism to block access to advertisements on sex determination tests through keywords that may get generated, and the same should be conveyed to it.
"In our considered opinion, they are under obligation to see that the ‘doctrine of auto block’ is applied within a reasonable period of time. It is difficult to accept the submission that once it is brought to their notice, they will do the needful. It need not be over emphasized that it has to be an in-house procedure/method to be introduced by the companies, and we do direct," the bench said in its order.
Its direction came as senior counsel C.A. Sundaram appearing for Google India told the court that "if anyone, taking recourse to any kind of ingenuity, feed certain words and something that is prohibited under the (PC&PNDT) Act comes into existence, the ‘principle of auto block’ shall be immediately applied and it shall not be shown".
However, besides Sundaram, senior counsel K.V. Vishwanathan appearing for Microsoft and senior counsel Anupam Lal Das appearing for Yahoo India told the court that they can auto block the information based on newly-coined search key words only when it is brought to their notice.
Appearing for petitioner Sabu Mathew George, senior counsel Sanjay Parikh told the court that what three search engines have agreed to is blocking of the advertisements commercially promoting sex determination techniques/kits but not videos, searches, or images promoting sex selection.
Parikh said that Section 22 of the Act relating to prohibition of advertisement relating to pre-natal determination of sex and punishment for contravention had to be read along with other provisions of the statute and should be conferred an "expensive meaning" and not construed narrowly.
George has sought curbs on advertisement commercially promoting sex determination techniques/kits and other related things which has contributed to eschewed sex ratio.
On the width of Section 22 of the PC&PNDT Act, as submitted by Parikh, the bench said that it would hear the matter on November 16.
The court was told by the government that Google by their July 19 communication has informed to have taken all possible steps to ensure compliance with act.
Similarly Microsoft Corporation India by August 1 communication has informed their "absolute compliance with the mandate of Section 22 of PC & PNDT Act being the prohibition of advertisement in relation to conception and pre natal determination of communication".
Yahoo India had by July 29 communication has informed of its advertising policy that prohibits advertising that promotes pre-conception/prenatal sex selection techniques or sex selection.