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Q 48- The official secrecy statute directly contradicts the 2005 Right to Information Act. Examine the statement in light of the policies introduced during the Covid 19 pandemic. (250 words)
- Paper & Topic: GS II à Government policies and interventions for
development in various sectors
- The details of pandemic response, vaccination cost, and expert committee meeting schedules are not available to the public.
- The workings of PM-CARES have been shrouded in secrecy, making it difficult to hold the government accountable.
- The ethos of Right to Information is undermined by bureaucratic concealment.
- According to the Official Secrets Act of 1923, any government official can mark a document as confidential in order to prevent it from being published.
- In the event of a dispute between the two laws, the RTI Act's provisions take precedence over the OSA's
- Section 22 of the RTI Act provides that its requirements would take effect despite anything in the OSA that contradicts them.
- However, this has not been the case in the case of pandemic data. Official secrecy is at odds with RTI.
- The government's responses to RTI queries filed over the past year have been characterised by blatant denials.
- Opacity serves as a cover for large-scale over-centralisation and misgovernance in COVID-19-related topics, from vaccine manufacture and pricing decisions to last year's lockdown planning and the establishment and running of the ten-thousand-crore-plus PM CARES fund.
- Vaccine-related details: Bharat Biotech hasn't released any peer-reviewed interim efficacy assessments from Phase 3 clinical studies until now.
- The DCGI has denied RTI requests regarding its decision to give Covaxin and Covishield emergency approval, saying that information about efficacy and safety is considered privileged commercial information.
- The ICMR will receive a 5% royalty on the vaccination.
- Only because the Supreme Court heard a suo motu PIL on the pandemic has these and other bits of information become public.
- The government's summary dismissals not only violate citizens' fundamental right to information, but also force RTI petitions into a two-year appeals procedure.
- Citizens must seek Information Commissions and High Courts to obtain basic information, wasting time and money.
- Effects on governance and the general welfare:
- Effective planning and administration cannot take place in the dark, and experts blame incompetence and a lack of preparation as much as the virus for the high death toll and misery.
- Official secrecy is jeopardising scientists', public health experts', and policy experts' ability to provide timely input and recommendations to the government.
- The information blackhole is so bad that over 900 scientists have petitioned the Prime Minister for access to data and information.
- However, not much has changed.
- Because the government receives a large number of charity gifts, it must be accountable to the public for how these funds are spent.
- A lack of medicines, hospital beds, vaccines, and oxygen raises questions about the government's preparedness to confront the pandemic.
- In accordance with Sections 4 and 7 of the RTI Act, which deal with proactive and urgent disclosures with life and liberty implications, the Supreme Court should require the government to suo motu reveal material connected to COVID-19 policies.
- Amartya Sen stated in a paper about famines in colonial India that mass hunger and death do not occur if information flows freely.
- The same may be said for pandemic preparedness.