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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Info warriors

Four youths launched RTI Nation — a website aimed at helping people file RTI applications — in August 2009. And they have received around 2,000 applications so far

The seeds of the idea were sown at their college fest at IIT Kanpur in 2006, where Anna Hazare and his colleagues inspired a bunch of students with their fiery speeches on the power of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Today, as a civil society movement led by Team Anna sweeps the nation, these students have scripted their own sunshine story.

Immediately after passing out from the IIT two years later, Prateek Kumar joined a multinational company in Mumbai. The pressures of corporate life were not a deterrent for Kumar and others who wanted to do something tangible with their inspiration. On August 15, 2009, he along with his friends Rahul Gupta, Prashant Gupta and Rasaal Dwivedi — all in their early 20s — launched their website, RTI Nation.

The portal ventured into the until-then unexplored territory of using the Internet to file RTI applications. Applicants fill a basic form on the website mentioning their query and the team fleshes it out into a detailed application asking the right question to the authority concerned. The response has been overwhelming, with the website having received around 2,000 applications till date which the foursome juggle skillfully along with their regular jobs.

“Rahul created the simple interface for the website, after which we rented a small office space and hired a couple of employees to help with the application process,” Kumar says. A nominal online payment of Rs 150 is charged per application. “The money just about helps us to break even as it is used for paying the employees, the office rent and the rest is ploughed back into the venture.”

Applications pour in from all over the country and sometimes even from citizens based abroad. A majority of applicants turn to RTI Nation as a last resort when their attempts to get a passport or driving licence issued, income tax refund or provident fund transferred get stonewalled.

Prashant Gupta says in most cases, the passport is issued or the PF claim addressed within days of filing the RTI. “Officials find it easier to do the work than explain that they have been evading it due to sheer lethargy or in the hope that their palms will eventually be greased... Such applications demanding reasons for delays mostly go unanswered. So technically that RTI application counts as a failure, but at least the work gets done.”

Their website is full of testimonials from relieved applicants, one who got three passports issued under tatkal within days or a student who got his exam papers rechecked all through RTI. Another applicant got a prompt call from RTO officials asking him to come and pick up his driving licence that was pending for two years. “It’s not only the successful applicants but former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah himself has written to us appreciating our efforts,” Gupta says.


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