HC asks MEITY, CPIOs to reply to plea seeking details of Aarogya Setu app under RTI Act

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court Tuesday sought the response of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and CPIOs of its various departments on a plea seeking details of the Aarogya Setu mobile application.

The high court, which observed that the issue of Aarogya Setu application is of “public importance,”¬†was hearing the plea also challenging the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order discharging show-cause notices against MEITY officers without hearing the complainant.

The high court was of the prima facie view that the November 24, 2020 order of CIC was clearly passed without according hearing to the RTI activist who has filed a complaint with the commission after various government agencies failed to answer his RTI application seeking details of Aarogya Setu application which was launched on April 2, 2020, by the government, post the outbreak of COVID-19.

Justice Prathiba M Singh issued notices and sought responses of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) and Central Public Information Officers (CPIO) of the ministry, National E-Governance Division (NeGD), Department of Electronics and eGov, and National Informatics Centre.

The high court directed the counsel for petitioner and RTI activist Saurav Das and various agencies to place a chart setting out the information sought by him, provided to him and yet to be provided and listed the matter for further hearing on February 24.

Das, who is also a journalist, in his plea, has sought to set aside the final order passed by CIC on November 24, 2020, dropping penal proceedings against the CPIOs of various agencies for obstructing access to public records relating to the Aarogya Setu app under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Advocate Vrinda Bhandari, representing the petitioner, sought a direction to the CIC to provide an opportunity to him to participate in the show cause/penalty proceedings so that he can demonstrate the inadequate, incomplete, and false representations made by the CPIOs of the departments regarding the information sought for being in the public domain.

Advocate Rahul Sharma, representing the ministry and various CIPOs of its department, submitted that a substantial amount of information is already available in the public domain about the Aarogya Setu app and a large number of documents were placed before the CIC which led to the discharge of show-cause notices against the officers.

The plea sought a direction to the CIC to conduct a fresh hearing under the provisions of the RTI Act after providing an adequate opportunity to the petitioner to be heard.

It also sought to direct the CPIO of the Department of Electronics and eGov to provide the information sought by him in his August 1, 2020, RTI application.

The journalist had filed multiple RTI applications seeking details pertaining to the creation of the government’s contract tracing app Aarogya Setu.

When he did not receive any reply, he approached the CIC with his grievances.

In October last year, he was told by the authorities that the information relating to Aarogya Setu was not held by their respective departments and the CIC had then issued show-cause notice to the CPIOs after hearing the petitioner’s submissions, as to why penalty under the RTI Act should not be imposed on them for not adequately answering the RTI application.

The RTI application has sought several details regarding the making of the government’s contract tracing app Aarogya Setu and the people behind it.