'Anonymity is the basic need of RTI users'
RTI USERS are increasingly being targeted for exposing wrongdoings in public offices. Through its website, RTI Anonymous group offers a service of filing RTI applications by a proxy applicant thus keeping the identity of real information seeker a secret. The information sought is also made publicly available online. GOI Monitor talks to one of the group's founding members, Ritesh Singh.
Q How did the idea of RTI Anonymous emerge?
In the last 2 years (2010 and 2012) 27 RTI activists were killed. People, who dared to stand-up against corruption, were being victimised. RTI Anonymous is one solution that would hopefully reduce this issue to a significant extent. Long brainstorming sessions between the three founders (Anand Sharma, Avnish Singh and myself), finally resulted in this idea. With the technical expertise, experience and background that we three already had, implementing this idea on a website was the next most logical thing to do. And thus RTI Anonymous was born.
Q Are you satisfied with the response this initiative has generated?
Initially, the response was quite good and we had a large number of people coming in to volunteer, but people lose interest in 'social service' quite easily and its hard to find people who are really dedicated to do some good for the society patiently and consistently. So, after the initial good response, now we just have the three founders and a few more people like Sangh Priya Rahul, Param Dhar and Nawal Agrawal doing the 'boring work'. We have approximately 3,000 users on our site. So, the high number of people using our services makes up for the lack of volunteers. It gives us a lot of satisfaction that our efforts have helped many people expose corruption without any fear.
Q. All across India RTI users are facing threats What do you think is the loophole in the RTI Act that needs to be plugged to avoid this?
The need for a Whistleblower Protection Act has been expressed by all the activists who use RTI as a medium to expose corruption. But government’s inaction on this subject has unfortunately caused a number of deaths all over the country in the last few years..
Q. Various state governments are coming out with policies to protect RTI users. Any suggestions on how the state machinery can be revamped to prevent such attacks?
The basic need of any RTI activist is anonymity because even though many have the guts to face death for their work, but murder of an activist not only suppresses the information that would have exposed corruption but also instills fear in the minds of people who could have taken the cause further.
Q. There have been suggestions that making proactive disclosures can help prevent people from filing RTIs to get the information and hence face the threat. But do you think it's feasible to ensure proactive disclosure related to all government work?
Making proactive disclosures would not only ensure transparency but also reduce corruption. There is nothing in proactive disclosure that makes it infeasible. However, it's not a complete solution because expecting a criminal to expose his own deeds is a laughable idea. I am sure they will find a way around it. For a start, the government should make proactive disclosures compulsory.
Q. Is there any area where you would like RTI Anonymous to further improve?
We would like to pursue the cases of corruption that we have exposed in courts. That would surely make RTI Anonymous a finished product, but lack of volunteer strength has so far prevented us from doing so.
Q. Since the RTI is filed by a proxy, how is the money needed to procure the copies of documents sorted out?
We are primarily a self-funded organisation.We can afford to be self funded because the costs we face are only normal paper pen charges and the website hosting charges. But many people have generously given us funds which have been displayed transparently on the website.
Q. Have there been any threats faced by your team members for doing this work?
Yes. Some of our team members have been seriously threatened. We can’t share their names for obvious reasons.
Q. RTI Anonymous is a good platform but till now it's restricted to Internet. How are you planning to expand its reach to people who don't have access to the Internet?
RTI Anonymous is not restricted to internet. We have filed many anonymous RTI's received through post. People who know of this service but do not have the knowledge of computers or Internet or there is no Internet available in their area, contact us through post and we have responded to their requests.
Visit RTI Anonymous's website here