Officials who embarrassed govt with RTI response on Aarogya Setu face action

Aarogya Setu: The government has been encouraging people to downlload the mobile app that would help in contact tracing and alert the government to potential hotspots.
Aarogya Setu application was born out of a need to bring a 21st century technology-based solution to an unprecedented problem presented by coronavirus pandemic(AP)
Aarogya Setu application was born out of a need to bring a 21st century technology-based solution to an unprecedented problem presented by coronavirus pandemic(AP)
Updated on Oct 29, 2020 08:03 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByDeeksha Bharadwaj

Information technology ministry officials who blocked a right to information request on Aarogya Setu, telling a RTI activist that they did not hold any information on the mobile app created by the government will face action, people familiar with the matter said.

The ministry of electronics and information technology has given directions to initiate suitable action against the officers concerned.

The decision comes after the Central Information Commission pulled up officials including one from the National Informatics Centre, who had evaded giving information to a RTI activist. The NIC had collaborated with experts in the private sector to create the mobile application to trace potential Covid infections and identify hotspots.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had led the government’s campaign to encourage people to download the application on their phones. When some privacy and security concerns were raised by experts, the government put out the source code of the application so that people could satisfy themselves that it was safe. The app has been downloaded more than 16 crore times.

But when RTI activist Saurav Das filed an RTI request to get more details about the app, it seemed that no department concerned had any information about it. The NIC, in its response to the RTI, said that they do not hold information on who created the app, while MEITY did not reply and the National e-Governance Division NeGD said the information does not concern them.

Das complained to the information watchdog, Central Information Commission, which was also shocked at the response of government officials.

Information commissioner Vanaja N Sarna came down hard on the officials as she gave them an opportunity to explain why they should not be penalised under the information law. The law empowers the commission to impose a maximum fine of 25,000 on government officials for default.

She told NIC to explain how the government website was created if they did not have any information about it.

“The Commission observed that none of the CPIOs provided any information. Therefore, the Commission directs the CPIO, NIC to explain this matter in writing as to how the website was created with the domain name, if they do not have any information about it,” the information commissioner said.

“None of the CPIOs were able to explain anything regarding who created the App, where are the files, and the same is extremely preposterous,” the order added.

As the news of the government concerned claiming that it had no information about the application in its files emerged, the opposition rushed to jab the government. Finally in the evening, a red-faced government issued a statement to underline that all information about the contact tracing application designed to combat the Covid-19 outbreak was already in public domain.

But that didn’t explain the evasive RTI response by its officials. The decision to take action against the bureaucrats and scientists who had blocked the information request came on Thursday. The government also underlined that it was committed to providing all the information sought under the RTI Act by the applicant.

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Thursday, December 09, 2021