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Late-night tweet, no prelude: How Railways made Aarogya Setu must for travel

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines for passengers availing these train services made not mention of it and the Press Information Bureau statement on Monday had only "advised" them to use the contact tracing app.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar , Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Published: May 13, 2020 2:07:47 am
Railway workers make arrangements for the partial commencement of train services. (Express Photo)

THROUGH JUST a tweet past midnight and catching many of its key officials off guard, the Railways on Tuesday became the country’s first transport entity to make Aarogya Setu, the government’s contact-tracing app, mandatory for travel.

Sources told The Indian Express that the decision took key officials by surprise Tuesday morning as there had been no discussions about making the app a precondition to travel on Monday, a day before 15 Rajdhani-type trains resumed passenger operations to and from Delhi. The decision was communicated verbally to zones on Tuesday hours before the first set of trains departed, officials said. The IRCTC website started flashing the message and even sent messages to ticket holders. The app, however, was not mandatory for those travelling by Shramik Special trains, a Railways spokesperson said.

“Indian Railways is going to start few passenger trains services. It is mandatory for passengers to download Aarogya Setu app in their mobile phones, before commencing their journey,” the tweet posted from the official Railway ministry handle at 12.24 am said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs came out with the Standard Operating Procedure for running the special trains Monday and it did not have any mention of the app. The Press Information Bureau’s release about the trains said passengers would be “advised” to download the app. Home ministry sources told The Indian Express that there was no MHA direction to Railways to make the use of the app mandatory.

Key officials in zonal railways told The Indian Express that they had not been intimated about the move before the tweet and zonal general managers on Tuesday passed down the message verbally. There had been no discussions from the ministry about making the app a must for travellers, they said.

The tweet, from the publicity department of the ministry, came after a day of policy directives about the operations of the trains. Aarogya Setu was the second last point in the “Protocol regarding entry and movement of passengers” issued by the ministry to its zonal railways Monday. It simply said: “All passengers to be advised to download and use the Aarogya Setu application.”

Sources added that given the last-minute nature of the decision, passengers, who were anyway supposed to report to the stations 90 minutes prior to departure, would have ample time to download the app then
and there.

An official of the publicity department said passengers who did not have the app on their phones would be helped by railway functionaries at stations and trains to download. Officials said there were no cases on Tuesday of passengers being denied travel for not having the app on their phones.

It was unofficially pointed out within the ministry by some that the developers of Aarogya Setu were rolling out a feature- phone (non-smartphone) version of the app as well.

Civil society activists have raised privacy-related concerns regarding use of the app, a charge the government
has denied.

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