You’re reading it here first: The Indian government has created a committee of experts to work on a Citizen App that will onboard all citizens to “combat the COVID-19 pandemic” and “evaluate and converge related technology solutions and suggestions” through a public-private partnership (PPP). The committee has to complete its work within 3 months. The notice, dated April 3, has been issued by the Government of India, Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Cabinet Secretariat. The committee will receive secretarial support from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) and “further” assistance from Manharsinh Yadav, Deputy Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Members of the committee are:

  1. R. S. Sharma, Chairperson, TRAI
  2. Prof. K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India
  3. Ajay Prakash Sawhnet, Secretary, MEITY
  4. Anshu Prakash, Secretary, Depart of Telecommunications
  5. Anand Mahindra, Chairperson, Mahindra & Mahindra
  6. N. Chandrasekaran, Chairperson, Tata Sons
  7. Prof. V. Kamakoti, Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and IIT Madras

Prof. Kamakoti confirmed the authenticity of the notice and the creation of the committee to MediaNama.

This comes at a time when multiple apps have been created in the last two weeks to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in India, both at national and state level. This includes contact tracing apps such as Aarogya Setu and Corona Kavach; apps to ensure compliance with quarantine orders such as CoBuddy in Tamil Nadu, facial recognition app in Karnataka; and apps and websites to issue passes for movement during the lockdown. Apart from apps, governments (Delhi, Karnataka, Mumbai) are also using call data records and geofencing to monitor quarantined people’s compliance with orders. Multiple governments (Central, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala) have also created WhatsApp chatbots to fight misinformation about the pandemic and offer updates.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), had also set up a COVID-19 task force to fund market-ready solutions including, among other things, data analytics for tracking, monitoring, and controlling the spread of coronavirus through AI and IoT based solutions.

In such a scenario, “developing a single nation-wide technology platform on-boarding all citizens can be a powerful tool in combating the pandemic”. It is not clear what this “on-boarding” would entail. It is also not clear what will happen to all the other apps that have been released by different ministries and state governments.