It is official now! India has now enforced the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Act, 1897 meant to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases, with the pandemic Corona virus engulfing India, with 75 having tested positive, at the last count, spread over several States.
The website of the Union health ministry https://www.mohfw.gov.in/
has admirably opened up a page dedicated to COVID-19, even before you go to its homepage, listing comprehensive details of various aspects of the virus. Besides listing the number of positive cases of the Corona virus in various States and a helpline, it has provided comprehensive information on 25 points.
Information on the pandemic virus fits into the category of large public interest and also comes under the suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act by public authorities. The information available therein falls in its sub-sections V, VI and XIV, which include (v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control; (vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control; (xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form and; all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public.
The Union health ministry is quickly updating the number of passengers screened at airports; total number of confirmed COVID 2019 cases across India ; State/UT wise list of COVID 19 confirmed cases of Indian and foreign nationals; updating travel advisory as and when.
It has also uploaded the decision making processes like invoking powers under the Disaster Management Act 2005; decisions of high level group of ministers meeting to review the current status and actions for prevention and management of COVID 19; advisory on mass gatherings; updating visa and travel restrictions issued by the bureau of immigration (BOI) after meeting of group of ministers (GoM) from time to time.
Admirably, for the dissemination of information on the virus to various age groups, it has uploaded a comic book for children titled KIDS, VAAYU & CORONA
, to provide correct information about COVID-19 and this is making the rounds through WhatsApp groups.
Other information includes: advisory for exemptions to mark biometric attendance
; discharge policy for suspected or confirmed Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases; and a series of documents which are guidelines for prevention and control aimed at health officials and the medical fraternity.
Do see the website for guidelines on use of masks by public
as it has stated that only those with cough and cold need to use them while people are buying and wearing them out of fear.
It is heartening to note that for once, the deadly pandemic has spurred a public authority to be transparent. However, much needs to be done by the health departments of various States. For example, Maharashtra’s health department website –www.arogya.maharashtra.gov.in
- is simply pathetic in this regard.
In a typo, which says Govid 19 Guidelines, it has just uploaded a huge document.
Considering it has the third largest cases amongst all States, it needs to do much more. In stark contrast, the Kerala government’s health department website - http://dhs.kerala.gov.in/
- is filled with information, as vast as the Union ministry’s health website. It has provided comprehensive information in English and Malayalam.
Could the CIC and SCIC’s pitch in by sending circulars to Central and State governments to follow along the lines of the Union health ministry and Kerala? It’s the urgent need of the hour as this pandemic is affecting every citizen in some form or the other.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”