NEW DELHI:The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to suggest ways to ban child pornography in all forms in India.
The observations by the court, prodding the government to look for ways by which pornography can be reined in, is likely to trigger yet another debate on freedom of speech.
The court, however, clearly said that proliferation of pornography cannot be seen as a freedom of expression issue.
The judges on the bench said India cannot "afford to carry on any experiment" in the name of "liberty or freedom of speech and expression".
"The Centre shall file an affidavit to suggest ways and means to curb child pornography. Innocent children can't be made prey to this kind of painful situation," justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh said.
A previous attempt by the government to ban pornographic internet sites came a cropper.
The apex court said parameters regarding pornography needed to be set. It has already held in other cases that freedom of speech and expression as envisaged under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is not "absolute" and is subject to reasonable restrictions.
"You have to draw a line on what can be viewed in public and what can be viewed in private," the bench said.
These observations came after the Centre submitted that it was difficult to ban pornographic websites as they do not fall under any country's jurisdiction.
The judges advised the Centre to seek advice from experts and the National Commission for Women (NCW) on ways to ban websites dealing with adult and child pornography.
Additional solicitor-general Pinky Anand said agencies like Interpol and CBI were already taking steps to block sites that deal in child pornography. But she said blocking adult pornographic sites was another matter.
"It is possible to ban child pornography but it is not possible to ban pornographic websites as they are not under any country's juridiction," she said.
Lawyer Vijay Panjwani, appearing for the petitioner, argued strongly in favour of a ban on watching or disseminating pornographic materials in public places.
"We are not concerned what a group of people do in a room. Obscenity is prohibited under law. And what is not permissible under the Indian law, the government has to take steps to prohibit it)," the court said.
The counsel for Supreme Court Women Lawyers' Association (SCWLA) cited an incident where an FIR was registered against a school bus driver and conductor for showing pornographic videos to students.
"The bus driver and conductor had pornographic video clips stored in their phones. Such sites showing pornographic materials have to be blocked to protect children," she said.
The women lawyers' body had earlier moved the apex court, seeking blocking of all porn websites because pornography "corrupts" the minds of the young and leads them to commit crime against women and children.
The intervention application filed by SCWLA came after the Centre's decision to lift the ban on 857 porn sites.
Earlier, on August 10 last year, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that it would not play the role of a moral policeman although it did indeed block porn sites that peddle child pornography, as is the "standard accepted practice" across the globe.
The Centre had then termed pornography as an issue that falls in a grey area of the law, and would need a public debate to come to resolution.