How many times have you ruefully looked at the flyover while leaving campus and wondered when, if ever, it’ll open to traffic? At such times, you must have also contemplated a way to get some information from public authorities to explain exactly what they are up to. Enter Ritesh Singh, currently a 3rd year B.Tech computer science student from RP Hall. Not long after he had filed an RTI to enquire about the reasons behind stoppage of work on the flyover (following up meticulously in the weeks that followed), work on the much-awaited structure began again. Closely associated with Arvind Kejriwal and last year’s anti-corruption movement, Ritesh has campaigned for the Jan Lokpal bill on campus and in his home state of Uttar Pradesh. This is a person who sued Google to filter out pornography from its search results, reasoning that Google search results increase revenues for pornographic sites, which in turn funds sex trafficking. His latest protest: a fast undertaken as a ‘penace’ for a particularly offensive photo montage posted on YouTube.The Scholars’ Avenue caught up with Ritesh, as he spoke about drawing motivation from the Bhagvad Gita and his past experiences, including working with Kejriwal and activist Shehla Masood.
To aid the aam aadmi in exercising the powers of the Right to Information Act is Ritesh’s primary goal at present. The Act, passed in 2005, empowers any citizen to requisition information about public projects. There are several websites, such as rtination.com or applyrti.com, where one can file an RTI. The relevant public authority is then required to provide a proper and efficient reply within 30 days. When the requested information is potentially incriminating, however, the safety of the applicant is often in jeopardy. India does not have a formal law to protect such people and ever since the RTI Act came into force, no less than 28 whistleblowers have been killed while many live in the shadow of fear. In such a backdrop, it is essential to have a mechanism to protect the identities of those requisitioning information.
Ritesh’s solution was founding RTI Anonmyous (getup4change.org), an online portal that accepts requests (free of cost) to file RTIs, while promising to maintain anonymity. The system aims to set up a model where a third person, one far removed from the scene of the suspected wrongdoing, files an RTI in lieu of someone who is restrained by fear of retribution. The beauty of the system is that it maintains a high degree of efficiency (with experienced activists drafting and posting RTIs), while allowing each of the original complainants to be discreet. The RTI Anonymous movement is open for anybody to join and the entire process takes place on the cyber platform. The transparency of this scheme is evident from the fact that all scanned RTI documents are shared extensively on social networking websites and a link called RTI-Anonymous Accounts is dedicated to this purpose. As it stands at the beginning of 2012, about 130 RTIs have been filed and several wonderful stories of this movement are up for perusal on their website.
The RTI Act itself, however, has been criticised on several counts such as being used more for individual purpose than community interests, awareness about it in rural areas being low, many RTI applications going unheeded and public authorities not being tech-savvy enough to accept RTIs as digital requests.Despite these shortcomings, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh feels that public authorities today are more sensitive to citizens’ concerns, and are better placed to respond to them. From an impartial point of view, we urge our readers to reflect on the efficacy of the Act and the extent to which it has actually helped in eradicating corruption. Ritesh feels that bureaucratic misdemeanour and governmental corruption can only be got rid of through a thorough, unforgiving democratic process that punishes corruption. As for his own endeavor, he does receive some support from a select few like-minded friends, but the broader question that begs answering is – as supposedly some of the most intelligent and educated citizens of the nation, what can we IITians do to bring about change that is so badly needed?