On April 2, the government launched the Aarogya Setu mobile application, pinning hopes on 21st century solutions to a crisis last seen 100 years ago. This meant moving quickly on coding, design and backend integration with the existing health surveillance system. It is of little surprise then that it relied on private collaborators.
What is unusual, however, is that there has been little documentation of the process and the consultation, close to seven months since the launch. Three government departments — the ministry of electronics and information technology, National Informatics Centre, and National e-Governance Division — failed to respond on record to Right to Information requests for details of who helped build and launch the app. The ministry later issued a press release and pointed to a list of contributors contained in the Github (a code repository platform), clarifying that the app’s development included “volunteers from industry and academia”.
The controversy and the response reinforce concerns about transparency on the project. Projects of national importance typically follow a detailed and open consultation process. This is paired with a legal framework, particularly if the process involves breaking out of typical departmental workflows. Particularly crucial is full disclosure on the identity of private sector collaborators and why they were chosen. In the case of Aarogya Setu, none of these have been adequately addressed – a reality that is possibly reflected in the government’s decision to walk back on efforts to make it mandatory. It is understandable that in April, the government rushed through these checkpoints. But over 162 million downloads later, it is about time that these disclosures are made.
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