The Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Public Information Officers of the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and its National E-Governance Division. The notice asked them to explain whether the information that the applicant sought on the creation of Aarogya Setu app is available within public domain.
The plea in the court was filed by Saurav Das, who in August 2020 has filed a RTI application for the entire file of Aarogya Setu app. This would entail information on the proposal for the app, the departments and the people involved, the communication of private and public sector for the same etc.
When the Public Information Officers failed to provide the information he filed a complaint before the Central Information Commission (CIC) dated September 10, 2020. Before this the National Informatics Centre (NIC) had also said that they did not have any information on the app.
He urged for an urgent hearing and it was held on October 22, 2020 before CIC. The ground for the hearing was that the app may affect the privacy of citizens with irreversible harm if the 2 years wait time, which was usual was followed. The government officials were accused of providing evasive responses to the RTI, failing to give reasonable response to the question of which government department held the information related to the app.
The CIC had held that this denial of information by the government could not be accepted. The files may move between departments but it cannot be expected that the citizen would go in circles for the same.
Advocate Vrinda Bhandari on behalf of Mr. Das advanced the argument that explained the timeline of the events and how the petitioner had been kept waiting since May 2020 due to the evasive actions of the government. She argued that if the petitioner had been present at the time of the show cause hearing, the petitioner could have rebutted against the government’s claim that all information required by him was in the public domain. This could also have prevented the CIC form being misled.
The respondent counsel in the hearing maintained that all the information is in the public domain and that the delay and lack of coordination in the departments were because the app was created in record time without spending money in a war-like situation, where the aim was to save lives.