The immunisation section of the health ministry has refused to divulge dates on which the expert group met, detailed agenda of meetings, presentations made before the group and the minutes of meetings. RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak had filed an application under RTI Act seeking information on the terms of reference of the National Expert Group of Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 chaired by NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul. Nayak had also sought notification or office order by which the group was formed, name and designation of every person of the group, exact dates on which the group met, minutes of meetings, file notings and correspondence related to the formation of the group and presentations made in each meeting.
The health ministry, however, has refused to divulge anything on the meetings of the group and has said that this did not come “under the ambit of definition of information as per Section 2 (f) of RTI Act”. Section 2 (f) defines “information” to include “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…”
The ministry, however, has divulged the members of the 17-member expert group. The terms of reference include preparing a strategy for conceptualisation and implementation of mechanisms for creation of a digital infrastructure for inventory management and delivery mechanism of the vaccine and provide guidance on selection of vaccine candidate, procurement mechanism, prioritisation of population groups for vaccination, financial resources for procurement, delivery platforms including cold chain.
The denial of information gains significance as it comes at a time when the government was pulled up for giving an evasive reply under RTI Act on who designed Aarogya Setu. Nayak said, “The expert group is conducting meetings and Dr Paul speaks to the media as well. Surely, there will be agenda drawn up for each meeting, presentations made, materials distributed and minutes drafted. The committee is also looking at costing of vaccine procurement and administration The people have the right to know more details than the government is willing to put out in the public domain. All of this is information that must be proactively and mandatorily disclosed under Section 4 of RTI Act.”