By Twishy, 03 December 2014 India's Right To Information Act, though commendable, is not always effective. Bangalore-based startup OnlineRTI aims to change this.
India's Right To Information (RTI) Act states that citizens have a right to know facts of the administration of the country. Considering that transparency is the backbone of a democracy, this Act is extremely significant, but unfortunately, it is marred by delayed response from the government, corrupt officials and bureaucracy in a country that boasts to be the world's largest democracy. But why are we talking about RTI here?
Well, because a tech startup based in Bangalore wants Indians to exercise their right. Whether it is settling an income tax refund or understanding where their hard-earned money as a tax payer is being spent, this startup wants to enable getting the information they desire.
Say Hello to *OnlineRTI *
As the name suggests, the company helps citizens to file RTI applications online in a simple way. Started in 2013, OnlineRTI takes care of drafting, paying government fees and dispatching requests to the concerned authorities.
Vinoth Ranganathan, Co-founder, OnlineRTI
"The RTI Act is the most powerful weapon in the hands of citizens. But filing an RTI application is a very tedious process. We wanted to simplify the process by creating a platform where users can file their applications without any hassle," says Vinoth Ranganathan, Co-founder, OnlineRTI.
In India, an average citizen has to stand in long queues at government offices to seek clarifications on
applications, and in all probability bribe officials and clerks to get some small work done, creating a dire need for an effective alternative solution.
How can OnlineRTI help?
Like mentioned before, it is part of the basic rights of every Indian citizen to get his/her questions answered by the government and related organisations in a timely and comprehensive manner. Hence, every government office is required to have a dedicated Public Information Officer, whose primary responsibility is to duly respond to every RTI application.
If citizens send their questions to the correct address, following RTI rules of the concerned government body, they should ideally get answers in most cases. But if they miss a step, they don't receive any response at all. Here is where OnlineRTI comes in.
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Journey of a hassled Indian
Ranganathan was in Singapore and wanted to file a RTI application with the Indian Central Government and one with Tamil Nadu (state in south India) State Government. But to do so was not easy. He first had to figure out the mandatory format in which to submit the application as it varies from state to state. Next was to ask questions in a way that would not be dismissed; in this he was guided by few non profits. Next was where to send that particular application so it reaches the right person. And lastly was to understand the payment fees and mode of payment.
The whole process for one simple RTI was quite cumbersome. That's when he realised the need for a simplified way to seek information effectively. This prompted him to create OnlineRTI along with Co- founder Pradeep Bhatt.
All users have to do is go to the 'Apply' page and submit an application. The team then analyses and processes it as per pre- defined best practices.
The approved application is then filed with the prescribed fees and the user receives information directly from the concerned government authority. The startup charges INR 149 (US$2.4) for each application, which includes drafting cost, logistics cost and government fees.
An average user spends close to three minutes on the platform to submit an RTI application, as per the company. It claims to have filed more than 12,000 applications.
_The video below shows how users can file an RTI on the portal: _
The company recently raised funding of INR 50 lakh (US$80,729) through LetsVenture, a crowdsourcing platform in India. It is working on the Android app which will be launched by the year end. **
Looking at competition in the segment, RTINation.com does a similar job and online portal RTIanonymous allows applicant to file applications anonymously. However, Ranganathan feels that the government website, rtionline.gov.in, which accepts RTI applications online, is a direct competition. "But it is only for the Central Government and the payment options are limited," he justifies.
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A lot of government websites are outdated and contain addresses of offices that have changed. "These RTIs were getting rejected and we had to re-send them," shares Ranganathan, talking about initial hurdles.
"Now we try to verify (addresses) as much as possible," he added.
Another challenge was the struggle in getting postal orders in the required number. It addressed that by tying up with the Indian Post Office.
Changes to be brought within the system
Ranganathan feels that the government should create more awareness about RTI and the officials in charge of response need to be
trained. "There should be more Information Commissioners. Otherwise, there is a long list of pending appeal cases," he feels.
The Co-founder strongly recommends that as per section 4(1) of RTI Act, government bodies should disclose as much information as possible _suo moto _(on their own accord) on their websites.
The team wants to promote good governance through an effective online tool that is simple, affordable and convenient. It is planning to accept RTI requests via phone calls. This feature is being tested in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra and the startup plans to launch this feature by March 2015.
"We aim to file one lakh successful RTI applications by end of June 2015," Ranganathan concludes.
Image Credits: Ruslan Grumble / _Shutterstock _
A writer at heart, Twishy thinks that no idea is small and nothing is a mistake. Some of the great works come from beautiful mistakes that are perfectly imperfect. She believes in unearthing new talent and feels that genius can be written on a bar napkin too. Incisive reporting coupled with exceptional ideas has been the love of her life. When not writing, one can find her exploring the best places to hang out with loved ones.