Madras HC Orders CIC To Hear Afresh Denial on COVID-19 Information under RTI by Union Health Ministry
A cluster of applications filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, in the health ministry in 2022, regarding information on COVID-19 vaccine management and continuously denied by its central public information officer (CPIO) and first appellate authority (FAA) using exemption clauses of Section 8, were unfortunately further sealed with the central information commissioner (CIC) supporting the denial of information, without any proof of material or discussion during the second hearing.
Puducherry-based RTI applicant Saurav Das, who subsequently filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court (HC), has finally got relief early this week against this arbitrary CIC order. The Madras HC has ruled that the CIC should hold a fresh hearing on 19 June 2024 and the respondents mentioned in the writ petition, which includes three PIOs, should appear without fail.
The court observed that the CIC, without any “pointed discussion or material proof produced in that regard,” had given a clean chit to the health ministry, stating that the information was provided for.
Mr Das, in his tweet, also stated, “In other words, the commission lied that the information was provided. The High Court has asked the CIC to conduct a fresh hearing on the 19th in the five RTI matters. Will challenge again if the information is denied.”
The HC order noted that “The grievance ventilated by the Petitioner in these Writ Petitions is that as the Public Information Officer and the Appellate Authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as 'the RTI Act' for short) had not furnished the information sought by him relating to various queries on the action taken by the Central Government for the control of the spread of COVID pandemic and treatment given to the affected persons and their families.
“He had preferred second appeals…under Section 19(3) of the RTI Act before the First Respondent (CIC), who by common order dated 16.08.2021 had come to the conclusion that the required information had been furnished without any proof produced in support of the same.”
It further observed that the CIC’s disputed order, “which cannot be sustained, is set aside and the matter is remitted to the First Respondent (CIC) to be decided afresh uninfluenced and uninhibited…”
The five RTI applications that Mr Das filed related to the functioning of the top COVID-19 committee established for the purpose by the name of the national expert group on vaccine administration (NEGVAC). It also comprised records relating to the technical committee—the national technical advisory group on immunisation (NTAGI); scientific evidence relied on increasing the time gap for the Covishield vaccine; details of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) signed by members of NEGVAC, and details of centralised procurement of the vaccine.
Moneylife had earlier reported, through this column, that an array of information sought under the RTI Act from users and activists across the country since March 2020 has been continuously denied. It had demanded transparency in various aspects of COVID-19 management, administration and dispersal of vaccines. 
Information was also sought on the constitution of NEGVAC, the nodal agency which coordinates with states; details of the vaccine rollout; the security of the CoWIN app, essential for the vaccination appointment; the finalisation of pricing of vaccines; safety and clearances of vaccines, details of export of vaccines and dispersal in the domestic market and so on. However, the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) and related public authorities have turned a deaf ear.
Hope the HC order gives a fresh hope of transparency.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
3 weeks ago
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