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RTI impact: Health ministry told to upload details of Covid hospitals, facility centres

By Our Representative
India’s Right to Information (RTI) watchdog, Central Information Commission (CIC), has asked the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to fill up a major information gap: Accurate and updated information about every Covid hospital and treatment centre designated across the country, so that it is accessible to everybody at the click of a button.
The CIC directive follows an RTI plea by senior activist Venkatesh Nayak, programme head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, who said, he initially filed his application on April 17 with the MoHFW, seeking proactive compilation and publication a list of all Covid treatment facilities designated across the country.
In an email alert to Counterview, Nayak said, he did this after “learning from media reports and friends that Covid infected people were having difficulties finding the locations of the designated Covid hospitals.” He “rummaged through MoHFW's website and its newly set up Covid resource page for a consolidated list of such hospitals”, but there was “no information.”
In his RTI plea, he had requested district-wise number of hospitals and healthcare facilities; designated as Covid-19 treatment centres as on date; their postal addresses and telephone numbers of the hospitals and healthcare facilities; and criteria for determining whether or not a hospital or a healthcare facility should be designated as a Covid-19 treatment centre.
“As all the information directly concerns the life and liberty of individuals across the country, I requested MoHFW to publicise the information within 48 hours of receipt of this request by uploading the same on their official website”, Nayak said.
However, he regretted, the MoHFW Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) “transferred the RTI application to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). Neither public authority sent me any reply subsequently. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 infection rate was rising steadily.”
MoHFW, DGHS and ICMR denied they had comprehensive list of hospitals and treatment centres for treating Covid patients
This made Nayak to approach CIC on May 20, 2020, stating that his plea was “being transferred from one public authority to another without providing substantial information.” On June 1, CIC conducted an online hearing, where the public authorities of MoHFW, DGHS and ICMR “denied” that they had a comprehensive list of hospitals and treatment centres designated for the purpose of treating Covid-19 infected patients.
Expressing its displeasure at this state of affairs, CIC advised Secretary, HoHFW to “designate an officer of an appropriate seniority as a Nodal Officer to examine the matter and suo motu disclose the information sought in the RTI application on the website of the Public Authority within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order."
Meanwhile, said Nayak, a randomly surveyed Covid-related websites and webpages of several state governments revealed the Delhi government web portal leads one to a list of hospital-wise availability of beds, updated here every day, though without addresses or telephone numbers.
The Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh government websites provide district-wise information and available facilities but without daily updates or postal addresses and telephone numbers. Bihar's dedicated Covid webpage only has district-wise helpline numbers, no list of Covid hospitals.
Nayak found that “some states like Karnataka and Gujarat are much more advanced than others as they proactively disclose even mobile phone numbers of the designated Covid healthcare facilities. Telangana has used Google Mapping effectively to help people find their way to such facilities with the help of their smartphones.”
However, Madhya Pradesh and J&K were found to be “parsimonious with the quantity and quality of information they display on their websites”, Nayak said, adding, “MP performs much worse than most other states surveyed here, as does J&K.”

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