In an early morning tweet today, the Ministry of Railways made it mandatory for passengers of special trains — which begin operations today — to download the government’s exposure notification app, Aarogya Setu. On Monday, the Ministry had only “advised” passengers to download the app. Railways’ tweet announcing Aarogya Setu as being mandatory for travel came at 12:24 am today, and it isn’t clear whether it has communicated the same to passengers directly. If not, it could mean that several passengers who are to board trains today might not even be aware of this new condition.
Passengers could be asked to show the app during the thermal screening process, R.K. Rana, Senior PRO at Northern Railways, told MediaNama. “Having Aarogya Setu is mandatory, and passengers without the app will not be allowed to travel,” he said, reiterating Railways’ tweet. People who have a smartphone but not Aarogya Setu, will be directed to install the app during the screening, Rana clarified. When we asked Rana what would happen if a passenger doesn’t have a phone, he said that “everyone has a smartphone”, and that “guidelines will have to be followed”. This means that people who don’t have a phone will potentially not be allowed to undertake the journey.
Advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation tweeted that the requirement of having Aarogya Setu as a condition for travel by Railways will cause “massive exclusion” to large sections of the society. “Technology deployments should be inclusive and account for implementing by design. A failure to do so is unconstitutional,” IFF said.
A report by the Indian Express suggests that before Railways tweeted about it, even the zonal divisions were not made aware about the app being mandatory, and that there had been no discussions between zonal divisions and the Ministry about it. Moreover, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ standard operating procedure for running the special trains, which was released on May 11, does not even mention Aarogya Setu. When India had begun operations to bring citizens stranded abroad back home, the Home Ministry had said that “all passengers shall be asked to download Aarogya Setu app on their mobile devices”.
Earlier this month, the government had made it mandatory for all employees, both public and private, and people living in Containment Zones to mandatorily download Aarogya Setu. Besides, the Ministry has authorised state governments and local authorities to make guidelines more restrictive. Since then, the Noida Police has ordered residents to download the app, or face punishment of up to 6 months. Even before that, the app was made mandatory for all central government employees, and contract workers at Zomato and Urban Company.
Three cases have been filed in the Kerala High Court challenging the directives making it mandatory for employees across the country to download the app. In one of the cases, the petitioner has argued that making the app mandatory lacks user consent, and violates the Puttaswamy judgement, among other things. There is no way to check if the information collected by Aarogya Setu is actually deleted, the petitioner has argued.