Being the Interface between Common Man and the Government
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Sitting in Singapore, when Vinoth Ranganathan, co-founder of OnlineRTI, was trying to gather some information regarding his father’s pension in 2012, he realized how tedious the process of filing a Right to Information(RTI) application could get in India. Following this incident Vinoth, with fellow techie Pradeep Bhatt established OnlineRTI in February 2014.
OnlineRTI is a for-profit social enterprise, which simplifies the process of applying for RTI application, for any government in India.
Simplifying a convoluted process
When we wanted to file an RTI few years back it was very difficult. The information was scattered, different states had different rules, it was not online, Pradeep said. That’s when we realised that the inconvenience of this process is stopping people from using this facility on a mass scale. People were not using it to keep a check on the government, to solve their personal problems and hence we decided to implement technology to improve governance in India.
The duo admitted that to make people believe that filing an online RTI application could take barely few minutes was not that difficult, as people were already used websites to buy things and booking services online by that time. However, they said that assuring them of their credibility was a difficult. “If you are not a popular website people don’t find it credible as we take money upfront, so that was one challenge,” Vinoth said. OnlineRTI takes the application and after a series of cross-checking and verification of details, the company’s team verifies the draft from the applicant and post that it is sent to the concerned department by the start-up’s logistics team.
Realizing demand from home
Initially, the company was under the impression that online RTIs would benefit only non-residents of India, who do not have access to country’s information. To their surprise, 99 percent of their traffic came from India as compared to other countries. “ It was not the NRIs who were facing problems because they rarely interact with the government, it’s the people in India who had government related issues,” Vinoth said.
Clearing the fear of RTI
People in general were very unaware of the various issues that could be solved using RTI. People are scared to an extent that they would be killed if they ask for certain basic information.The team has now decided to change their approach in dealing with this concept. Till now the company spoke about the process RTI but now they’ve decided to talk about issues that matter to people the most like tax, pension refund, and provident funds to make this concept more relatable to the common masses. We have decided that we won’t talk about RTIs, we will talk about the problems that RTIs solve.
Frivolous and memorable RTIs
The company makes sure that they eliminate frivolous RTIs, data about private companies and voluminous data asking for information over five years. The team has had days when people filed RTIs for questions such as why Mahatma Gandhi was called Mahatma, queries about marriageable age by a 19-year old boy; completely unaware of the value of this service.
The duo recalled an incident where a man driving via a toll gate was suddenly charged five rupees extra in Bangalore. On filing a RTI on the same, the highway authorities were unaware of this increased fee. On further investigation, the toll operator was penalized for 1.8 crores by the government and the original tax was restored.
Understanding and working with the government
The duo said that response from the government varies from region to region. OnlineRTI wants to be the interface between the common man and the government. The company also understands problems the government goes through when people ask for voluminous data and file convoluted and erratic requests. “Expressing yourself is the challenging part and when people don’t express themselves properly the person providing information also finds it difficult,” Pradeep said.
However, the company has seen that people in rural areas have a better idea about governance. They know where to send their requests, whereas people in urban areas do not know intricate details about government bodies
OnlineRTI Bangalore and have raised the angel round from a group of angel investors as well as LetsVenture and plan to utilize these funds to increase awareness and localize their product so that more people use.