Right-to-information (RTI) laws empower citizens to engage with government and hold public officials accountable. In India, citizens have used RTI to get roads repaired, protect wildlife, fight corruption, and receive basic information about accessing government benefits. However, this has come with a cost. At least 56 people have been killed for their RTI activism, and twice as many have been assaulted. Social stigma has also severely limited its usage by women. Moreover, the process itself is cumbersome: Each government agency can have dozens of information officers dealing with different functions, creating difficult-to-navigate terrain. A required fee adds another procedural challenge. Finally, composing the query can be daunting for those who are less literate.
YouRTI is a social enterprise that removes barriers to citizen engagement by providing a platform for anyone to make RTI requests, simply and safely. YouRTI analyzes the queries to determine the appropriate public offices from among the 10,000 agencies in the database. It then prepares and sends the requests to the appropriate public authorities. Responses are posted online for everyone to access, and information-seekers remain anonymous. For queries that are made in the public interest, there is no cost, which reduces obstacles. The aim is to make it almost as simple as posting a comment on a website. YouRTI scans the responses it receives, extracts the text, and makes it searchable. The platform also translates the replies, which are often in the local language of the responsible state agency, into English. Furthermore, YouRTI also integrates machine learning into the platform to automatically categorize the responses as replies, denials, or transfers. Activists who make frequent information requests can use the platform to save time and track the status of their queries. They can easily send a question to multiple offices, such as the same department in all 29 states, without doing the heavy lifting themselves. YouRTI’s ambition does not stop with RTI requests. In the future, it will aggregate all public documents on the platform to create a single source for government information.