Aarogya Setu that has been a bone of contention between data privacy experts and the government over privacy concerns has found its way back to the headlines again. The IT ministry found itself on backfoot after the Central Information Commission pulled it up for not providing adequate information to an RTI reply. The CIC sent show cause notices to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MietY), National Informatics Centre (NIC) and National E-Governance Division (NEGD) for giving evasive responses on the creators of the COVID-19 tracking app.
When these three key stakeholders that work closely with each other offered evasive replies to the RTI on the development of the tracking app, the CIC did not take to it kindly.
But it is not quite as simple as it appears.
Abhishek Singh, CEO of MyGov, and President and CEO of NEGD says that NIC and NEGD are both part of MeitY and hence, one unit.
In that case, why the separate replies?
"Sometime people who file RTI, they send the same request to multiple people. In this case it should have been dealt in a more organised manner. But unfortunately, the RTI responders replied from the perspective of their individual agencies," said Singh to BusinessToday.In.
Talking about the Aarogya Setu app, Singh says, "There is no doubt behind who created Aarogya Setu. There have been several press conferences and media reports about who created it -- the Aarogya Setu website says it, the app says it, even Play Store says it. The ownership of Aarogya Setu S is never in doubt and it will never be in doubt."
"MeitY has created it, NIC is the tech team involved with it and NEGD has ties with the origin of it. We provide constant support to the production and development team. When it was developed there were a lot of private sector volunteers who had also joined hands," he adds
He further clarifies that sometimes when the responders refuse to reply or say they don't have certain information it is due to the fact that the question is either hypothetical or speculative and does not come under the purview of RTI.
"Ideally the response should have been more detailed, instead of just yes or no that can easily be misconstrued. This is a classic case of miscommunication. We have taken corrective actions and will issue instructions with regards to how it should be done. As far as the queries of CIC that need to be answered, necessary steps are taken by MeitY to comply with that order," he said.
WHO DOES WHAT?
In the light of this, what role do MietY, NIC and NEGD play in the development of India's digital ecosystem and by extension of Aarogya Setu?
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology mentions in its website that it is responsible for the growth and sustainability of electronics, IT and ITeS services. It says that believes in 'internet governance' -- something that entails promoting R&D and innovation and ensuring the enhancement of digital services and a "secure cyber space" for India. Its objectives are to provide infrastructure for e-services, promote electronics hardware manufacturing and IT ITeS industry, implement framework and infrastructure for research and innovation, develop e-skills, secure India's cyber space, promote use of ICT and enhance India's role in global internet governance.
It deals with all policy matters relating to IT, electronics and internet, as well as their promotion, states the site. It focuses on digital transactions and payments, e-governance, e-commerce, e-medicine and e-infrastructure. MeitY also looks into matters of cyber law, and ways to bridge digital divide. It is also responsible for the National Informatics Centre and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), it further notes.
Part of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the National Informatics Centre provides ICT and e-governance support to the government. It has been working to this end as well as to bridge the digital divide for the past four decades, as mentioned in its website. It was established in 1976.
The NIC promotes digital opportunities, and has been the force behind electronic delivery of services to the government (G2G), business (G2B), citizen (G2C) and government employee (G2E). It has been responsible for establishing the nationwide ICT infrastructure and a number of digital solutions for the government, it states.
The National e-Governance Division was created by MeitY in 2009 as an independent business division under Digital India Corporation, states the website. It too, like NIC, supports the government in e-governance projects and initiatives by ministries and departments at both central and state level.
It provides strategic direction in terms of policies and strategy for Digital India Programme, is a facilitator and catalyst for the programme by various ministries and state government, undertakes technical appraisal of e-governance projects, assesses impact of e-governance projects, recruitment of specialised sources for e-governance missions, and training and development of initiatives, the site mentions.
The row started when appealer Saurav Das sought to find information about the development of the app but the NIC and the IT ministry denied having knowledge of who created the app. After Das filed a complaint regarding this, the CIC pulled up the MietY, NIC and NEGD for not furnishing adequate information.
"The CPIO, NIC's submissions that the entire file related to the creation of the App is not with NIC is understandable, but the same submissions if accepted from MeitY, NeGD and NIC in toto, then it becomes more relevant to now find out how an App was created and there is no information with any of the relevant public authorities," said the CIC asking the agencies to explain how the website was created with the domain name gov.in if they do not have any information about it.