List of Contents
Synopsis: Government should ensure transparency in the policies related to the Covid-19 pandemic in India. Official privacy on pandemic policies intensifies a crisis.
The government created the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) in August 2020. It is a central agency to take decisions on all matters related to vaccine administration and rollout.
- The details of the NEGVAC’s meetings were asked under the Right to Information (RTI) Act The Health Ministry responded that it does not know where the concerned documents are.
- The information about the dates and minutes of meetings of other task forces constituted to deal with the pandemic was denied. The reason stated was “The information is not in the public domain”.
- The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ICMR and Bharat Biotech for the rollout of Covaxin was also not provided.
- Such privacy runs through the full range of COVID-19- related matters. This includes vaccine manufacturing, pricing decisions, lockdown planning and running of the ₹10,000 crore-plus PM CARES fund. The officials are keeping the pandemic and vaccine policies a secret by avoiding the RTIs.
Implications of Secrecy
- The government is denying information on important policies and decisions. Opacity serves as a cover for over-centralization and misgovernance.
- Effective planning and management cannot happen in an opaque setting. As per experts, the Covid-19 related death toll also increased because of mismanagement and lack of preparation.
- Confidentiality is reducing the ability of scientists, public health, and policy experts to give feedback and suggestions to the government. Over 900 scientists have appealed to the Prime Minister for access to information and data.
Amartya Sen wrote about famines in colonial India that mass hunger and death do not occur where information flows freely.
- Sections 4 and 7 of the RTI Act provide for proactive and urgent disclosures where there are consequences for life and liberty.
- The Supreme Court should order the government to suo motu reveal information related to COVID-19 policies under the above provisions.
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