The nation of India lives under corruption. Its economy climbed in the 2000s, garnering lots of global optimism for its ascent towards becoming a developed nation. But that growth slowed and major corruption scandals grabbed headlines instead. Underlying issues entrenched in the bureaucratic and political system make life exceedingly difficult for citizens seeking basic rights and resources.
In a country where 75 percent of the population is under the age of 35, India cannot afford to have its resources in the wrong hands. Tweet This Quote
And in a country where 75 percent of the population is under the age of 35, India cannot afford to have its resources in the wrong hands—or in offshore bank accounts.
Some reports suggest that as much as fifty percent of government money intended for welfare programs and subsidies ends up padding the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and their cronies. According to Transparency International, 62 percent of Indians are forced to pay bribes. Every visit to a government office has the potential to lead to demands of bribe—even with basic services such as issuing drivers licenses or passports.
Honest leadership is desperately needed to put the country back on track.
GetUpForChange empowers Indian citizens to hold their government accountable under the Right to Information Act (RTI)—similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the US. Under this act, every government department has to respond to requests for information from citizens. If they don’t, GetUpForChange, with help from a strong legal team, prosecutes government officials who do not comply.
According to Transparency International, 62 percent of Indians are forced to pay bribes. Tweet This Quote
However, navigating RTI is difficult—even for founder Pradeep Bhatt, a software engineer by trade. After puzzling with the existing system, he and his team devised a simple solution to make the power afforded by the act accessible to the general public.
“We created an online service where we work through established legal channels to act as a liaison between citizens and government entities by leveraging RTI,” explains Bhatt. “It takes just 10 minutes to apply on our website or mobile app in a process that’s as simple as a Facebook post. Then, for $3 per request, our lawyers take up the case with the government. In the last year, we received more than 24,000 requests, from income tax returns to broken streetlights, exposing a wide array of corruption. Over the next two years, we plan to solve over 1 million requests and make India a better democracy.”
In India, many citizens face harassment and assault for requesting information. Tweet This Quote
Created in 2005, the RTI ensures access to information under the control of public authorities, but it does nothing to protect whistleblowers. Many citizens face harassment and assault for requesting information. Activists who sought information under RTI related to scams were brutally killed. Many deaths go unreported to the media.
“Every citizen has the right to know how the government is functioning without subjection to harassment or delay,” says Bhatt. With many living in the shadow of fear, this technology solves the problem by acting as a facilitator.
A person submits a request to GetUpForChange with details about a problem in his locality, like an unfixed road or an inquiry about a construction project that hasn’t received its promised funds. The RTI community and hired experts investigate and send reports to public information officers seeking accountability. The reports are published and consolidated on a database making it obvious when funds are reaching their destination or stopping short.
GetUpForChange estimates they’ve diverted approximately 30 million dollars from embezzlement. Tweet This Quote
Bhatt’s personal tipping point in his lifelong struggle against corruption came when his family member applied for a retirement fund. The officer threatened to withhold funds unless a substantial bribe was paid. Bhatt took basic steps that became the foundational process for an accountability system. He requested to know 1) why the money wasn’t provided; 2) who the officer was; and 3) who the senior officer was to report the incident to. The retirement money was returned without paying a bribe.
Successes for GetUpForChange run the gamut: from exposure of irregularities in election nominations to oversight of proper allotment of scholarship funds. To date, GetUpForChange estimates they’ve diverted approximately 30 million dollars from embezzlement. Such changes have had an immediate impact on communities where those funds mean clean water access, basic sanitation and funds for schools.
As the secrecy and corruption start to fall apart, what’s left is strong alliances and possibility. Tweet This Quote
“Government officials don’t want their names written as responsible for problems or corruption,” says Bhatt. “We are excited that this tool is solving problems for millions.”
As the secrecy and corruption start to fall apart, what’s left is strong alliances and possibility—firm ground on which to build.