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Delhi High Court Seeks Centre's Response On Plea Regarding Denial Of Information On Creation Of Aarogya Setu

Shreya Agarwal
19 Jan 2021 2:36 PM GMT
Delhi High Court Seeks Centres Response On  Plea Regarding Denial Of Information On Creation Of Aarogya Setu
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The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Public Information Officers of the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), and its National E-Governance Division (NeGD) asking them to explain whether information sought by an RTI applicant on the creation of the Aarogya Setu app is available in the public domain.The court was hearing a plea filed by RTI applicant...

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The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Public Information Officers of the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), and its National E-Governance Division (NeGD) asking them to explain whether information sought by an RTI applicant on the creation of the Aarogya Setu app is available in the public domain.

The court was hearing a plea filed by RTI applicant Saurav Das, who had filed an RTI application in August, 2020 seeking a copy of the entire file relating to Aarogya Setu which would contain information about the origin of the proposal, people and government departments involved, correspondence between private sector executives and government officials, file notings, minutes of meetings etc.
However, on the failure of the PIOs to revert with the relevant information, Das filed a complaint dated Sep 10, 2020,  before the Central Information Commission (CIC). Prior to this, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) had also stated that it did not have any information about the Aarogya Setu App.
Upon Das' motion for an early and urgent hearing, the same was conducted before the CIC on Oct 22, 2020. Th hearing was on the ground that the Aarogya Setu app could affect the privacy of millions of Indians during the Covid-19 pandemic with potential irreversible harm if the usual wait time of 2 years was insisted upon.
The government officials were accused, in the hearing, of providing evasive responses to the RTI queries, and also failed to give reasonable explanations as to which government department infact held all the information related to the creation of Aarogya Setu.
The CIC had then held that such denial of information by government authorities in this manner could not be accepted and while files may move between departments, "a citizen cannot go round in circles to find out the custodian."

Ministry Of Electronics, NIC And NeGD Have No Information About Who Created Arogya Setu App & How It Was Created: CIC Summons CPIOs

During the hearing, Advocate Vrinda Bhandari advanced oral arguments on behalf of Mr. Das and explained the timeline of the case to highlight how he had been kept waiting since May 2020 due to the evasive conduct of government officials. She also distinguished the judgements relied upon by the Respondents and clarified that the CIC should have at least heard the Petitioner to determine whether there was a default by the Public Information Officers even if he was not provided a hearing at the time of determination of quantum of penalty. She emphasized that if the Petitioner had been present during the show cause hearing, he could have rebutted the government's claim that all information sought by him was available in the public domain and prevented the CIC from being misled.

In response, the Government Counsel maintained that all relevant information was available in the public domain and it had been supplied to the Petitioner. He further justified the delay and lack of coordination among different government departments regarding Aarogya Setu by stating that the app had been developed in record time without spending a single penny amidst a war-like situation where the priority was saving lives.


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