Disclaimer: RTI Man is just a Proof Of Concept and it’s not fully functional. I created it to articulate my thoughts properly and convey the idea clearly. Replace RTI Man with ‘Crowfunding RTI App’ or ‘Kickstarter of RTIs’, this blog post will still make sense. The idea I am talking about is interesting, not what I call it.
Prologue: What is RTI?
The original proposal has a nice definition:
An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Basically RTI lets you ask questions to Government and Government related bodies. Assuming query is valid and if comes within RTI, then it is mandatory for Government to provide efficient response within 30 days. Why this is beneficial? In a high population country like ours, people can be the best watchdogs of the society and can monitor development processes. For example, if large amount of money is being spent on a Government project, you can question them and get the details and find out how your tax money is being spent.
Today, everyone (except people from Jammu & Kashmir) can submit an RTI request, directly using Central Government’s site. However State related to RTI queries are not fully online and the process is PITA. You can use third party services like OnlineRTI though, which makes the process easier.
The goal of this post:
I want to share my idea and I am curious to know what people think of it. Secondly, RTI Man’s source code is released on GitHub with most friendliest Open Source license. You could build a commercial product around it and you don’t have to pay me a penny. Source also includes deployment details for production server (ith nginx as proxy server and supervisor managing all the processes.)
How the idea was conceived:
I often come across news articles that life of RTI Activists is threatened and many such activists have lost lives over this. I would wonder how it would be if whole process made completely anonymous. Even though I was thinking about making it anonymous, I never shared it with people nor I tried to work on it more.
Yesterday morning, I saw a post on reddit where a certain user shared his idea about creating a subreddit about RTIs, where people could post RTI requests and if someone finds that interesting, he can fund the RTI. However I felt a separate platform could do much more than a subreddit and Indians hardly use reddit anyways.
At that moment, when I was thinking I realised it would be really great idea if you could mix RTIs, Anonymity and Crowdfunding. I liked the idea so much I started building a prototype and within 3 hours I had planned what all features it should have and text only version was complete. I shared it with couple of friends, who kinda liked the idea. Later I added styling, made it more user friendly. Within 24 hours whole thing was ready online. That’s how RTI Man was born.
What is RTI Man:
Please take a moment and browse the site. Since its only a Proof of Concept, there is no real money involved. Visit the site and signup. You will receive 100 credits. Now click on ‘All RTIs’ and you can see list of RTIs submitted. You can click on any RTI request and fund it. You can submit a new RTI request, if you want to obtain details anonymously and/or have your RTI query funded by people.
In real version, there would be a payment gateway implemented and you could buy credits, using Netbanking or ATM card or even Bitcoins.
Features in brief (Or of the idea):
- Anyone can login and create an account and its free. RTI Man does not require Email ID for signup, to encourage anonymity.
- At signup you receive 100 credits (equivalent to 100rs).
- You don’t have to spend your credits to submit an RTI request. Submitting a RTI query request is free and should be always.
- You can fund any RTI request, with minimum pledge amount of 10rs (or 10 credits).
That’s all the app does. All the above features mentioned are functional, you can signup and play around.
Some features which will be nice to have:
- Voting. You could ‘Like‘ an RTI or ‘Dislike‘ it. More Liked ones will get more visibility and less liked ones start moving to graveyard.
- Ability to upload already received RTI Responses and a search engine around it. Imagine searching through thousands of RTIs at your fingertips.
- A community/forum, to meet and discuss everything. (There are some already though.)
How it works:
Since everyone on RTI Man is anonymous, let me refer him as Anon.
- Anon signups on RTI Man.
- Anon submits a RTI query request on RTI Man.
- Members of RTI Man i.e. Anons see the new RTI request, they vote up if they like it.
- Anons who liked the request, fund the RTI request.
- Once the funding is completed, RTI Man forwards that RTI request to external services like Online RTI who submit the actual RTI to Government behalf on you. As of today, Online RTI charges ₹99 for each RTI.
- RTI Man receives the RTI response from external services and publishes on RTI Man.
How payments are handled:
- Once you have an account on RTI Man, you will have to buy credits. There will be a payment gateway, on which you use your Netbanking or Credit Card to purchase credits. Say 1 credit is equivalent to ₹1.
- Once you have credits in your account, you can fund any RTI on RTI Man you like.
- Once you fund an RTI, credits will be deducted from your RTI Man account. So there is no real monetary transactions involved at this step. Do note that, the current implementation does not keep track of funding, to keep the whole thing anonymous. There is no way to find out which all RTIs you have funded. And also no is way to get refund back once you funded it.
- RTI Man also does not keep track of who is submitting a new RTI request. So there is no way to find which RTI Requests are submitted by Anon.
There is some things which are not clear yet and require more thoughtful approach. I have addressed some concerns in the later part of the post.
Now why I think RTI Man is a good idea:
“Change begins with small things”
- RTI Man creates a platform where people come together, participate and make things happen. This will be one of those Indian online communities which has potential to bringe change.
- RTI Man lets crowdfunding of RTIs. So even with minimal amount a person will be to participate. For example current demo version lets you fund an RTI with only 10rs. (And that’s the minimum.) So with only 250Rs, you could take part in 25 RTIs. You do not have to move around different websites or pay with your Credit Card everytime.
- It’s NOT about money and it’s not actually the problem here, never will be. If you don’t want to submit the RTI by yourself, you can use third party services, which charge paltry amount. It’s about enabling people, so that they get the of sense of collaboration and be the part of change. I like of idea of spending my 100Rs divided and spent in 10 RTIs, instead of one.
- Anonymity. This whole thing can be made anonymous. RTI Man does not keep track about who has submitted RTIs and who’s funding. System only stores credits of person. There is no history attached with profiles. Ideally, you purchase bulk of credits at once and only at that time third party services are used. Using Bitcoins would be even awesome, however very less population of India are aware about crypto currencies and last time I checked, Gov being an ass about them.
- User friendly and simplistic approach. RTI Man makes whole process a lot easier. It only takes a click of button to submit an RTI request. And with one click people can start funding it. It’s no non-sense as possible. Whole time I was coding, I kept only one thing in mind, ‘What if, there is already similar an app and if I wanted to use it, how it would be?’
- Thanks to Technology, so many things today are simple. With using external libraries one could build a powerful search engine. RTI Man can collect all the RTI responses (which were obtained from other services), properly process them & index them. Now you have thousands of RTI Responses at your hand. You can search, read share all of them. ALL OF THEM. (Current version does not have this feature, yet.)
- RTI Man could be community driven. Think of Stackoverflow. People could moderate, vote and report submitted RTI requests. The community built around RTI Man can help newbies with the law. Building community around RTI is an awesome idea. Imagine a place you can go and see you all the people discussing about RTIs, it’s impacts, results etc. (there are some websites, however I find them boring and not vibrant.)
Why it’s not live yet? Why it’s still POC?
- Because I have never submitted one! I still do not have proper idea about it’s process and I am yet to understand the whole thing. Hacking on a site was easy.
- I don’t know whether its a good idea or bad one. Whether it will work or not. I find it great, but I don’t know what everyone think of it. The idea requires validation.
- I don’t want this to be used as a bitching tool to witch hunt someone or abuse the system. I have read and also witnessed a case of RTI being abused.
- If I am not wrong, RTI request needs a physical address to receive the info. In this setting, what address one should be using? A PO Bag for RTI Man?
- Being anonymous online is a great thing, but I don’t want to open a Pandora’s box of worms. Indian cTLD .in does not even support WHOIS privacy. Are there any anonymous Indian sites? Not that I know of. We live in a country where
GovernmentMinisters get butthurt over Facebook statuses.
- I don’t know how to monetize it, atleast to break even the server costs. For production server, a dedicated cloud server would be great and these things cost a lot. And neither I am a fan of ads. I really don’t like the idea of charging some fee to submit an RTI request. I feel it defeats the whole purpose. However Rupees to Credits conservation can be charged, so it has to be validated how viable it is.
It is completely written using Python with Tornado. MongoDB is used as data store with PyMongo. Currently I am running 16 processes on different ports, these are managed by Supervisor and nginx acting as a reverse proxy.
Currently app is hosted on a cloud server with following config:
- Cores – 8 (each core is equal to 2.5Ghz Intel Xeon or better)
- RAM – 10GB
- SSD – 150GB
- Bandwidth – 5TB
Currently, above configuration may be an overkill. A decent VPS from Digital Ocean can do well in beginning.
The GitHub link is here.
TLDR; I built an POC app for Crowdfunding RTIs. Throw in a payment gateway, it’s fully functional. I don’t know what to do next, so I am sharing my idea and making the whole thing public. You are free to create your own version of it and you don’t have to pay me a dime.
Lets make India a better place.