Don’t have details on National Expert Group on Vaccine, claims Health Ministry, ICMR: RTI

Responding to an RTI query, the Union Health Ministry said it is unaware of the location of the physical records relating to the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). Set up on August 7 under the chairmanship of Niti Aayog member VK Paul, the expert committee held its first meeting on August 12 of this year.

This expert committee was formed to conceptualise a strategy for coronavirus vaccine delivery in India. Spokesperson for MEA, Anurag Srivastava had said on August 21 that the ministry will provide support to NEGVAC in a bid to help Indian companies to connect with the developers of any candidate vaccine.

Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative claims he approached the Union Health Ministry seeking details about NEGVAC such as its constitution, minutes of meetings, agenda and presentations made before its members. Nayak also said he sought details regarding the material NEGVAC shared with the MEA.

In addition, Venkatesh Nayak made attempts to find out the amount of consultation fee or remuneration paid to members of NEGVAC.

Don’t know where details can be found: Health Ministry

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) refused to divulge details related to NEGVAC saying that the details of the meeting, agenda and material circulated during the meetings do not come under the definition of “information” under the scope of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In October of this year, the Union Health Ministry had also turned down multiple requests seeking details regarding NEGVAC.

Referring to details sought about the sitting fee payable to members of NEGVAC, the CPIO said such information is not available with the immunization section of the Union Health Ministry.

Venkatesh Nayak then decided to file an appeal before a senior official in Union Health Ministry challenging the CPIO’s order. However, the senior official ruled that the CPIO is not in possession of information and is unaware of where these details can be found.

MEA cites exemption, ICMR says don’t have details

Nayak’s application was then transferred to the MEA and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The MEA cited exemption clause of national security to turn down the request while the ICMR said it does not have the information sought by the applicant.

“How can people’s meaningful participation be ensured if the MoHFW does not place in the public domain details of NEGVAC’s working. There is a statutory requirement of proactive information disclosure under Sections 4(1)(c) and 4(1)(d) of the RTI Act about NEGVAC’s working. MoHFW and other public authorities involved in the vaccination roll-out plan have a statutory duty to make all facts and figures public along with the underlying reasoning for their decisions and actions under these provisions,” Venkatesh Nayak told news agency PTI.

Nayak said that he plans to approach the Central Information Commission to challenge the responses of the Union Health Ministry and the MEA in this regard.

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