Is Aarogya Setu Mandatory for Air & Train Travel? Confusion Reigns
There is no clarity at this point whether passengers have to download and install the app before they can travel.
Just days after the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) issued an order (vide the Ministry of Home Affairs) which meant that the Aarogya Setu app was no longer mandatory for people in containment zones and employees going to workplaces, confusion reigns over whether or not the app has been made mandatory for those looking to travel by air and rail.
After weeks of travel services being suspended, trains and flights are finally set to resume. The Railways Ministry had begun 15 special Rajdhani-type trains from Delhi last week, and announced on Wednesday, 20 May, that 200 passenger services would recommence from 1 June in a phased manner.
The National Executive Committee of the NDMA also announced on the same day that domestic air travel was no longer prohibited, and the Ministry of Civil Aviation has now clarified that domestic flights will resume from 25 May onwards.
But does one have to download the Aarogya Setu app to take a train or a flight? This is a very important question for those planning to travel, but unfortunately there is little clarity on the question, which needs to be cleared before these services resume properly.
Flights: Ministry Says Yes, Minister Says No
AIRPORTS AUTHORITY OF INDIA SOP
The first intimation that airline passengers would have to download the app came from the Airports Authority of India (AAI). In a Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for recommencement of flights on the morning of 21 May, the AAI said that all departing passengers “must compulsorily be registered with ‘Aarogya Setu’ App on their mobiles and the same shall be verified by CISF/Airport staff at the entry gate.”
The AAI circular also said that if a passenger’s status on the app wasn’t ‘Green’, they would not be allowed to enter the airport.
This created some amount of consternation because it seemed to indicate that if a person did not wish to download the app – which is justifiable since the government has not made it mandatory and there is no law which allows it to be made mandatory at present – they would not be allowed to board a flight.
Moreover, the AAI circular ignores the fact that not everyone looking to fly might have a smartphone – by making Aarogya Setu mandatory, it effectively prohibited any such person from taking a flight.
MINISTRY OF CIVIL AVIATION ORDER
When the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s order, dated 21 May, setting out precautionary measures for the resumption of air travel came out, it created more confusion than clarity.
In the General Instructions on page 3, it says that a “self-declaration/Aarogya Setu App status (for compatible device) would also be obtained that the passenger is free of COVID-19 symptoms.”
While this appeared to make self-certification an option rather than downloading the app, the subsequent detailed guidelines say that a person looking to enter the airport will have to display their Aarogya Setu status to the designated staff who will be conducting temperature checks at the entrance.
The guidelines then say that “(I)n case of non-availability of Aarogya Setu, the passenger should be facilitated to go to a counter provided by the airport where Aarogya Setu can be downloaded.”
Essentially, these guidelines indicate that if a person has a smartphone, they have to download the app and show their status on it, before being allowed to enter an airport to catch a flight.
Like the AAI circular, the only exception to this is children below 14 years of age.
MINISTER HARDEEP PURI’S PRESS CONFERENCE
The Minister for Civil Aviation, Hardeep Puri, conducted a press conference on Thursday, 21 May, at 3 pm, in which he was asked if the Aarogya Setu app was mandatory or not (see from 53:34 onwards).
The reporter who asked the question noted this discrepancy in the order, that on the one hand it says self-certification is possible, but on the other says that if a person doesn’t have it, they will be taken to a counter to download the app.
In response, Puri said that if a person didn’t have the app or the app wasn’t compatible with their phone, then this would not mean that the person would be deprived of their right to travel, and that instead a different procedure would be followed, to give a self-declaration or get a thermal check. Here are the minister’s exact words, for reference:
“Can I answer the question in terms of my simple understanding? Agar aapke paas Aarogya Setu app hai, aur usko aap dikhati hai, aur usme aata hai ‘you are safe’, green. Then you have no issue, go ahead. But maan lijiye aapke paas Aarogya Setu app nahi hai, ya aapke paas jo phone instrument hai, usme Aarogya Setu ki compatibility nahi hai, for whatever reason. Uska matlab ye nahi hai that you will be deprived of (air travel). Then they will need to follow a different procedure: you give a self-declaration, or you get a thermal check.”
This statement by the minister is quite clear: if a person doesn’t have the app, they don’t need to download it, and the alternative procedure can instead be followed.
However, as this seems at odds with what the Ministry order said, another journalist asked for a clarification on what would happen if a person has a compatible phone but hasn’t downloaded the app. At this point, the organisers were wrapping up the press conference, and so Puri said to the reporter: “I will have one of my colleagues speak to you in detail and explain.”
No clarification has been received till now from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Trains: Railways Ministry Tweet Says Yes, Guidelines Are Silent
The situation with the trains is just as confusing.
The movement of trains was permitted by the NDMA (vide an order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, as normal) on 11 May. This SOP said nothing about the Aarogya Setu app: it only said that passengers would be compulsorily screened, with only asymptomatic passengers allowed to board a train.
This order was the basis on which the Ministry of Railways was able to resume train bookings on 12 May for the 15 trains from Delhi, and now for the 200 other passenger services from 1 June.
RAILWAYS MINISTRY TWEET
In a late night tweet announcing the trains on 12 May, the Ministry of Railways said that “it is mandatory for passengers to download Aarogya Setu app in their mobile phones, before commencing their journey”.
This tweet, from the publicity department of the Railways Ministry, took key officials by surprise, according to the Indian Express, since there had been no discussions within the Ministry to make the app mandatory for people to travel.
Home ministry sources also told the newspaper that there was no direction from the MHA to make the app a precondition to travel.
Instead, the Railways Ministry appeared to have made downloading the app mandatory on its own volition, advising zonal railways services to advise passengers to download and use the app.
An official of the publicity department told The Indian Express that if a passenger did not have the app, railway functionaries would help them download it.
This again ignored the fact that a significant majority of the Indian population does not own a smartphone – a ministry source reportedly said that the developers would be rolling out a non-smartphone version of the app soon, so this was not a problem.
Railways officials who spoke toThe Economic Times noted that there were no official guidelines within the ministry itself, making downloading the app mandatory for travel, and that the government was just trying to bring maximum people on board the app.
RAILWAYS MINISTRY GUIDELINES
Fast forward a week, and it is no longer clear if the Railways Ministry is making it mandatory for train passengers to download the app. In the guidelines issued by the ministry for the trains which will run from 1 June onwards, there is no mention of the Aarogya Setu app.
In accordance with the NDMA/MHA SOP for trains, it does say that there will be thermal screening at the train stations, and that only passengers who are found asymptomatic will travel – but not that they will have to show their status on the app.
It, therefore, looks like the Ministry has dropped the Aarogya Setu requirement for train travel. However, when The Quint spoke to a member of the Railway Board, he was under the impression that the app was still required, and spoke of why it was a useful thing to be done. When asked about the legal basis for making it mandatory, he said he was not sure.
It is, therefore, unclear if the change in position that the new guidelines indicate has been conveyed to railways officials and functionaries, who could well end up telling passengers that it is still mandatory to download the app.
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