CIC | “Appalled that basic information pertaining to district wise designated COVID treatment centres couldn’t be provided” | Urgent requirement for notifying nodal authority in Ministry to provide information

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Julka (CIC) observed that, important decisions are being made by the Governments involving huge intervention in the healthcare and daily lives of billions of people as they seek to secure social, economic and cultural wellbeing of its population and uphold the rule of law.

It is essential that the decisions themselves and the senior decision makers involved are thoroughly documented in order for the Governments to remain accountable both during and after the crisis for future generations to be able to learn from these actions.

Complainant sought information regarding district-wise number of hospitals and healthcare facilities called by any other name, designated as COVID-19 treatment centres;  criteria for designating them as COVID-19 treatment centers; hospitals and healthcare facilities whose status as COVID 19 treatment centers was withdrawn, etc which should be available with the M/o Health and Family Welfare (M/oH&FW), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) or the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Reasoning for information sought:

Complainant submitted that the suo motu disclosure of information would immensely benefit the suspected COVID-19 patients or their relatives to be informed and take timely action to approach the appropriate healthcare facility for treatment.

ICMR

He further cited the example of mapping of designated COVID testing centers by the ICMR on Google Maps and stated that similarly information regarding COVID-19 Treatment Centers could also be displayed on Google Maps which would be beneficial to the entire citizenry.

Respondent (MoHFW, PH Section) re-iterated the response to the RTI application and stated that the information sought was not available with them and the application was transferred to the CPIOs concerned.

Commission’s Observation and Decision

Commission at the outset was appalled to learn that basic information pertaining to the District Wise Designated COVID treatment centres could not be provided to the information seeker by any of the Respondents.

As per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, the CPIO acts as the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 and it is their responsibility to facilitate flow of information instead of simply shifting the onus of disclosing the same to other Public Authority/ officials.

Commission further observed that a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of the public who having to seek information should be an exception.

An open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms.

Commission held that very pertinent information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic situation was sought by the Complainant which could not be made available by any of the Respondent. 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 M/o H&FW/ DGHS to compile, collate and consolidate the information sought in the RTI application and suo motu upload the same on the website of the Public Authority.

Therefore, the Commission advises the Secretary, M/o H&FW to designate an officer of an appropriate seniority as a Nodal Officer to examine the matter and suo motu disclose the information sought in the RTI application on the website of the Public Authority within a period of 15 days.[Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO & CMO (EMR), MoHFW, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 346 , decided on 05-06-2020]

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