Stating that denial of information by authorities under the Right to Information (RTI) Act was unacceptable, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to explain in writing as to how the Aarogya Setu website was created with the domain name “gov.in” if they have no information about it.
The CIC has also issued show cause notices to four Central government officials for prima facie obstruction of information and providing an evasive reply to an RTI application.
The RTI applicant, Saurav Das (complainant), had sought information with respect to the origin of the app, the approval details, communications with private people involved in making/developing the app, internal notes, memos, file notings, and minutes of the meetings held while creating the app, among other information.
A specific request was also made to the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) concerned to provide the details of the law/legislation under which the app was created and was being handled.
Also Read: Right to Privacy vis à vis Aarogya Setu App
The matter reached the CIC after the complainant received no reply from the CPIO of the National E-Governance Division of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the CPIO, MeitY.
Before the CIC, the complainant stated that the present RTI application contained points which were also asked to the NIC vide another application.
Information was not provided by the NIC in that case, on the ground that it did “not hold the information” relating to the app’s creation, the complainant informed the CIC.
Apprehending a grave breach of the fundamental right to privacy on a massive scale, the complainant thus asserted that nobody had any information on how the Aarogya Setu app was created and what audit measures existed to check for the misuse of the personal data of millions of Indians.
He also argued that there seemed to be a pattern among the public authorities to wilfully withhold information from any applicant asking for information related to Aarogya Setu.
In view of the response from the CPIO concerned, the CIC opined that the authorities had “failed to locate the source from where information can be accessed”. The order states,
“After hearing the averments of all the concerned parties and also the CPIO NIC who was present in this case on the basis of oral direction by the Commission, the denial of information by all the concerned authorities cannot be accepted at all.”
It was held that Section 6(3) of the RTI Act could not be used by public authorities to push off the matter.
“The addressees cannot simply wash their hands off by stating that the information is not available with them. Some effort should have been put in to find out the custodian(s) of the information sought, by the concerned public authorities when apparently they are the relevant parties…”
The Commission thus directed the CPIO, NIC to explain in writing as to how the Aarogya Setu website was created with the domain name gov.in if they did not have any information about it. The order further reads,
The CIC has also directed the presence of the relevant official from the website to be present before it on the next date of hearing.
All CPIOs concerned are directed to appear before the CIC on the next date of hearing, November 24.