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Aarogya Setu RTI Row: CIC Denies Petitioner Permission to Attend Penalty Hearing Against Officials Who Failed To Furnish Information

8 Nov 2020 2:35 PM GMT
Aarogya Setu RTI Row: CIC Denies Petitioner Permission to Attend Penalty Hearing Against Officials Who Failed To Furnish Information

The Central Information Commission, which is hearing a complaint filed by RTI Activist and Independent journalist Saurav Das on Aarogya Setu has declined him permission to attend the next hearing on the matter. The CIC on 27 October had passed a scathing remark against the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY) and National Informatics Centre (NIC) for failing to answer who had created the Aarogya Setu app, calling it as "extremely preposterous". It then issued a show-cause notice to the CPIOs of the two public authorities asking them as to why action should not be initiated against them under Section 20 (Penalty for failure to supply information without any reasonable cause) of the RTI Act. The CIC then fixed the next date of hearing on 24 November and directed all the CPIOs to be present before it.

When Das wrote an email to the Central Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna's office about not receiving a hearing notice, the IC's office informed him that his "presence is not required". The Commission informed him that since it is a show-cause hearing, it is only "between the Commission and the CPIOs concerned". Strongly dissenting against this decision, the activist wrote back saying it would be "against the principles of natural justice" if he is not allowed to make additional submissions and witness his own case. He also complained that the Commission ignored his complaint about not receiving copies of the replies and submissions made by the public authorities in response to the show-cause notices, calling it "incorrect on their part and a procedural lapse". As per CIC rules, each party is to serve a copy of their submissions to the opposite party before the hearing takes place.

"Denying me an opportunity to make additional submissions, receive copies of counters and additional submissions made by concerned CPIO's on my own case and denying me my right to witness my own case proceedings is against the very principles of transparency that this Commission seeks to protect and uphold" Das wrote in the email, while also highlighting the larger public and media interest in the case.

The CIC's observations in the case had left the Centre red-faced and the story quickly started trending on social media platforms. The opposition launched sharp attacks on the Modi government while mocking Aarogya Setu's creation as an "Act of God". Following the backlash, the Ministry issued a press release, stating that the information about the developers of the app was available in public domain.

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

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