The CIC has advised the Union health ministry to appoint a nodal officer for the dissemination of COVID-19 related information in public domain on suo motu basis in larger public interest as mandated in the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Chief Information Commissioner Bimal Julka issued an advisory to the ministry on a plea by activist Venkatesh Nayak to put out the information within 15 days.
Nayak had demanded details of district-wise number of hospitals and healthcare facilities called by any other name, designated as COVID-19 treatment centres as on date; postal addresses and telephone numbers of the hospitals and healthcare facilities and other related issues but the health ministry could not provide the details.
After the hearing at the CIC, Julka noted it is well recognised that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic will be far-reaching and that all the stakeholders need to be cognizant of the importance of proper data and record management.
“Such records could also be useful for research and educational institutions involved in tracing the disease, mapping and analysing the pathogens genome to develop vaccines that requires records and data accuracy,” he said.
He said a sound record management is more important than ever before with governments initiating unprecedented steps to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. He observed that very pertinent information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic situation was sought by Nayak which could not be made available by any of the respondents.
“The fact that the application shuttled from one division of the public authority to another indicates that there is a very urgent requirement for notifying a nodal authority in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and DGHS to compile, collate and consolidate the information sought in the RTI application and suo motu upload the same on the website.”
“There is an immense necessity to evolve a strong, robust and effective documentation mechanism and its continuous updation which will be mutually beneficial not only for the government but also for the scientists, researchers, academicians, historians, law makers, etc for future,” Julka said.
The commission advises the secretary, Union health ministry to designate an officer of appropriate seniority as a nodal officer to examine the matter and suo motu disclose the information sought in the RTI application on its website within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order in the larger public interest, he said.