Stay on ‘gender selection’ related search does not curtail right to access information

Supreme Court: Explaining the scope of the order directing the Microsoft Corporation (I) Pvt. Ltd., Google India and Yahoo ! India to delete any key word used in their search engines which has the potentiality to violate the provision under Section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, the Court said that there is no need on the part of anyone to infer that it creates any kind of curtailment in his right to access information, knowledge and wisdom and his freedom of expression. What is stayed is only with regard to violation of Section 22 of the Act.

In furtherance of the order dated 16.02.2017, the various Search Engines (respondents) had accepted that they will not sponsor any advertisement as provided under Section 22 of the Act. It was further added that they do not intend to take an adversarial position with the petitioner but on the contrary to play a participative and co-operative role so that the law made by the Parliament of India to control sex selection and to enhance the sex ratio is respected. They submitted that if the Nodal Officer of the Union of India communicates to any of the respondents with regard to any offensive material that contravenes Section 22 of the Act, they will block it. The Court had, on 16.02.2017, directed the respondents to appoint an In-House Expert Body which shall on its own understanding delete anything that violates the letter and spirit of language of Section 22 of the 1994 Act and, in case there is any doubt, they can seek suggestions from the Nodal Agency appointed by the Union of India.

Certain search results were brought  into the notice of the Court and It was contended that one such result i.e. ‘Medical Tourism In India’ deals with ‘gender determination’ in India which is prohibited by the aforesaid provision. The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, A.M. Khanwilkar and M.M. Shantanagoudar, JJ said that if somebody intends to search for ‘Medical Tourism In India’ is entitled to search as long as the content does not frustrate or defeat the restriction postulated under Section 22 of the Act.

The Court will now take up the matter on 05.09.2017 to see the outcome of the direction as accepted by the respondents. [Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 395, order dated 13.04.2017]

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