NEW DELHI: The Union Health Ministry has refused to share the amount of money spent on equipment purchase to handle the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, stating that such data does not come under the definition of "information" to be provided under the Right to Information Act.
According to Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, "information" which can be accessed by a citizen under the transparency law means "any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force."
Mumbai-based RTI activist Anil Galgali had filed an online application on the central government's portal seeking to know steps taken by it to control the spread of COVID-19, name of equipment and material purchased for the purpose and the amount spent on them.
The application was allotted to a Central Public Information Officer in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
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After 22 days of filing the RTI application, Galgali received a response stating that the CPIO deals with matters related to HLL Lifecare Limited, a public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
"The Central Public Information Officer is not required to furnish information which requires drawing of inteference and/or making of assumption, or to interpret information, or to solve the problem raised by the applicant, or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions. The Information sought does not come under the definition of information as defined in Section 2(f) of RTI Act, 2005. The CPIO has no specific information to provide (sic)," it said.
According to the RTI Act, if the information is not held by a CPIO, the officer should transfer it under Section 6(3) to his colleague who is supposed to have it within five days of receiving the plea.
Galgali said it was an "unprofessional" approach on the part of the CPIO.
And if it was so, why it took 22 days to deny the information, he asked.
"It should not only be furnished through RTI, but all the financial details be uploaded on its website, so that no one need to file an RTI to (know) about the expenses," Galgali said.
The RTI Act has a mandatory provision under Section 4 calling for proactive disclosure of information related to larger public interest by the government.
The number of COVID-19 cases in India has climbed to 1,65,799, making it the world's ninth worst-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 4,706 in the country on Friday, the Health Ministry said.