The Indian Railways, which had on Monday "advised" the passengers availing the special trains that started operating from Tuesday to install the government's Aarogya Setu mobile application, has now made it "mandatory" to do so.
However, officials said any "exception" will be decided on a "case-to-case basis", but did not rule out disallowing passengers who do not have the app installed on their mobile phones.
While the guidelines issued by the railways for the 15 pairs of special trains running between Delhi and major cities of the country did not say installing the mobile app was mandatory, a late night (12:24 am) tweet by the railway ministry made it compulsory.
"Indian Railways is going to start few passenger train services. It is mandatory for passengers to download Aarogya Setu app in their mobile phones, before commencing their journey," the tweet said.
Railways Spokesperson R D Bajpai confirmed that the app is now mandatory for travel and said since a mobile phone number is also compulsory to book tickets online, all passengers will have to carry mobile phones with them.
"Passengers should come to the station after installing the Aarogya Setu app and it is mandatory for travel. The railways has made it compulsory and the passengers should install it for their own safety. Since all passengers carry mobile phones, this should not be an issue. Also, we will provide the passengers with all the help needed to use the app," he said.
Officials, however, said if a passenger does not have a mobile phone, a decision will be taken on a "case-to-case basis", adding that it is unlikely that someone travelling on a Rajdhani train will not have a phone.
"We did not make this app compulsory on the special trains for migrants," Bajpai said.
Sources said installing the app was made mandatory after a Union ministry of home affairs missive, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with chief ministers on Monday.
Passengers, who do not have the app installed on their mobile phones, might be asked to do so after their arrival at the station, they added.
The government launched its own contact-tracing app, Aarogya Setu, developed by the ministry of electronics and information technology, last month. The aim of the app is to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Until recently, only smartphone users were able to use the app to get updates on whether they had unknowingly come in contact with a COVID-19 positive person and could contract the virus. Subsequently, to cover feature phones and landline connections, the government launched the Aarogya Setu Interactive Voice Response System.
The IVRS is available across the country as a toll-free service, where a feature phone and landline user will need to give a missed call to the number 1921 and will get a return call, requesting for inputs regarding their health.
The questions asked are aligned with the Aarogya Setu app and based on the responses given by the caller. The caller will get a text message indicating his health status and alerts for his health moving forward.
The government has said the inputs provided by the citizens will be made part of the Aarogya Setu app database. The information provided will be processed to send alerts on the actions need to be taken to ensure user safety.
The Aarogya Setu app has been installed on 9.8 crore smartphones so far and is used by the government for contact-tracing and disseminating medical advisories to users in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Civil society groups have raised privacy-related concerns as regards the use of the app, which the government has denied.
The MHA has also said installing the mobile app will be a must for those living in the COVID-19 containment zones.