The Chief Information Commission has pulled up the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for giving ‘evasive responses’ to an RTI filed, seeking information on who created Aarogya Setu, India’s COVID-19 contract tracing mobile application. The National Informatics Centre (NIC), which is the authority that creates official government websites, has stated in an RTI response that it does not know who created the application.
The CIC was hearing a plea filed by RTI activist Saurav Das, who said that the government did not give any information in response to his questions seeking who created the application and under what laws it was created.
The Commission has issued a show cause notice to the Central Public Information Officers in the National E-Governance Division (NEGD) of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
The CIC has asked for a response from SK Tyagi, Deputy Director and CPIO; DK Sagar, Deputy Director, Electronics; RA Dhawan, Senior General Manager (HR and Admn) and CPIO NeGD; and Shri Swarup Dutta, Scientist F and CPIO NIC. They have been asked to appear before the RTI body on November 24 at 1.15 pm, to show cause as to why action should not be initiated against them under Section 20 of the RTI Act, which penalises the refusal of information.
“The CPIO, MeitY and all concerned CPIOs present during the hearing have provided a very evasive kind of reply, as well as submissions, and not even attempted to trace the holder of the information in this case,” the CIC has noted.
“Moreover, the applicant has rightly pointed out that the App is being used by masses at large and can have wide-reaching effects, and breach of privacy cannot be ruled out completely. This Commission would not get into the right to privacy aspects, as the technical details of the App and the regulatory mechanism has not yet been examined by any competent Court of Law,” the CIC added.
The CIC also noted that the denial of information by all the concerned authorities “cannot be accepted at all,” and that Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, which transfers a query to a more competent authority, “cannot be used by public authorities to push off the matter.”
“The CPIO, NIC’s submissions that the entire file related to creation of the App is not with NIC is understandable, but the same submissions if accepted from MeITY, NeGD and NIC in toto, then it becomes more relevant to now find out how an App was created and there is no information with any of the relevant public authorities,” the Chief Informer Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna said in the order.