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Modi govt to hire firm to record Covid response data, ministries begin massive documentation

The PMO, in two directives, has asked all ministries and states for a detailed documentation of all their responses undertaken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

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New Delhi: The Modi government will hire a private firm to design an online repository of coronavirus response data — with all ministries now starting a massive exercise to document their consolidated actions and interventions taken to tackle the pandemic from the last week of January this year, ThePrint has learnt.

The move comes following at least two directives from the PMO — issued last month and early this month — in which it asked all ministries and states for a detailed documentation of all their responses undertaken to contain Covid-19. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been tasked with anchoring this effort at the national level. Both the directives have been seen by ThePrint.

ThePrint last month had reported about the PMO’s move to ask the NDMA to document all the work carried out by ministries and states to fight the Covid pandemic. The NDMA, which has been at the forefront of Covid-related efforts, functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In a letter on 8 May, Dr P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, asked the ministries and states to initiate documentation of “collective response” to Covid-19 in a comprehensive manner.

Mishra’s letter stated the exercise is needed to draw lessons learned, identify innovations and good practices, and provide the basis for future research into the management of pandemics.

The exercise would also strengthen India’s public health system to contain the spread of infectious diseases, according to the letter.

Also read: Modi’s BJP has found a way to beat coronavirus—by creating a make-believe India

New knowledge management agency

Following the latest PMO directive, the NDMA on 18 May wrote to all secretaries of the central government, stating the “documentation material”, including text and audio-visual, which is related to the mitigation and management of Covid-19, will, hence, need to be systematically catalogued using state-of-the-art methods.

“For this purpose, NDMA will be floating an RFP (request for proposal) to hire a Knowledge Management Agency to design an online data repository, where all the relevant data related to Covid-19 may be tagged, catalogued and stored for future reference,” the letter written by G.V.V. Sarma, member-secretary, NDMA, stated.

The letter, seen by ThePrint, added further information about the agency would be given to the ministries once it is hired.

Exercise to help govt in two ways

The NDMA stated in the letter that ministries have been requested to “map response actions against a timeline by documentation of wide ranging relevant materials”.

It said the NDMA will provide guidance to the nodal officers in the ministries appointed for the purpose and has sought the contact details of the nodal officers of each ministry.

Talking about the exercise, a senior government official told ThePrint it will help the government machinery in two ways. 

“Such detailed documentation will act as a ready reference for the government to effectively fight any future epidemic or pandemic. Covid-19 will, in a way, set a precedent so that ad-hocism can be avoided and responses would be faster and smoother without any hiccups,” he said.

“Secondly, it will also be a ready reckoner for the government to publicise its work in terms of the fight against Covid-19, both domestically and globally,” he said.

NDMA designs draft template for documenting

According to the draft template designed by the NDMA, the responses will have to be documented in five phases.

Phase I would be from 26 January to 29 February, while Phase II will be from 1 March to 22 March. Phase III will include the lockdown period from 23 March to 14 April, while Phase IV will start from 15 April to 3 May and Phase V will start from 4 May to 17 May.

Specific response actions taken in each phase along with dates, list of supporting documents, category and keywords will have to be listed by the ministries.

The NDMA, however, has asked ministries to examine the template and send its comments by 26 May, after which the final template will be circulated to the ministries.

According to the NDMA, every ministry will have to record response actions of departments, public sector units and autonomous bodies, which fall under their administrative control.

The NDMA said this documentation will include government orders, analytical documents, advisories issued by ministries and departments, research papers, audio-visual communication material, study reports, minutes of meeting, among others, all of which may need to be tagged and stored systematically.

It further stated the documentation should be detailed and granular to capture actions taken upto the lowest administrative level, and should include responses of civil society organisations as well as private sectors. 

Also read: Why coronavirus is making India’s politicians nervous


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