The Government issued an order on 17 May 2020 that appeared to dilute the ‘mandatory’ nature of the Aarogya Setu app. According to this order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, employers on ‘best efforts’ are asked to ensure the downloading of the app. Additionally, District Authorities may also ‘advise’ individuals to download the app. This was a refreshing move as previously issued guidelines on the lockdown had made the app mandatory for both private and public employees as well as those in containment zones. At first sight, there seems to be a reason to celebrate. But is this the case in practice?
In an office memorandum released on 18 May by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions outlining the preventive measures regarding COVID-19, we do not find mention of the mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app amongst the measures covering the directives for workplaces. However, at the same time, in another order dated 18 May issued by the Chief Secretary of the Government of Haryana on the guidelines for Government offices, the app has been made mandatory for all employees who come to work and have smartphones.
Another order issued on ‘Restrictions on Industrial and Commercial Establishments’ by the District Administration, Gurugram on 20 May, just three days after the new guidelines, makes the app mandatory for all employees (both private and public sector) with compatible phones. The responsibility of ensuring this is on the respective head of the organisations. Further those who do have compatible phones can use the ‘Aarogya IVRS 1921 service’.
Such contradictory orders make us question the extent to which change would be seen. We will continue tracking such orders to see whether the mandating of the app for employment purposes has indeed changed in the long run.
App continues to be mandatory for travel
Through our tracker, we have also observed a continued number of cases where the app is being made mandatory for travel. The post lock-down strategies issued by the airport, railways and certain metro authorities mandate the app.
According to the standard operating procedure issued by the Airport Authority of India on 21 May, the app is mandatory for all passengers with the exception of those under 14 years. It also states that this would be verified by the CISF/airport staff. Such guidelines would leave individuals who don’t have the app with no alternative travel options. However, there seems to be an option in the order issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on the same day. According to the order issued outlining guidelines for domestic air travel, all passengers have to declare their health status through the app or a self declaration form. Passengers with a ‘red status’ on the app would not be allowed to travel. The order itself is ambiguous. While it does mention that a self declaratory form can be used, it also mentions that in case of non-availability of the app, the passenger ‘should be facilitated to a counter’ at the airport where the app can be downloaded.
The press release posted on 20 May by the Ministry of Railways on the ‘guidelines for train services beginning on 1st June’ also mandates the app for passengers. A press release on 16 May, issued by the Noida Metro Rail Corporation Ltd and documenting its post lock-down strategy, also makes the app mandatory for passengers who wish to travel on the Aqua line. The app would need to show a ‘safe status’.
With citizens eager to travel either for employment purposes, or to reunite with their loved ones after a painful lockdown, mandatory requirements such as these leave individuals with little space to resist the app. The mandatory requirement for travel heavily restricts their freedom of movement.
App being mandated by educational institutions
Another area where there has been a continued push for the app has been in educational institutions. As reported by the Times of India on 20 May, APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University has asked all students sitting for the July examinations to mandatorily download the app. A notification issued by Jawaharlal Nehru University on 21 May requires all teaching and non-teaching staff to use the app. In another case, an order was issued on 17 May by Delhi University requesting all its employees to download the app.
Given these recent instances, we are not convinced that there is much reason to celebrate. We will continue to track these instances. You can find the tracker here.