Author – Anujith U
The state government of Karnataka, a state in the southern part of India , is exploring blockchain technology, for e-governance. A hackathon named “Blockchain Hackathon for Governance” will be held in the state capital Bengaluru, better known as Bangalore, the city which is also often referred to as the Silicon Valley or Information Technology (IT) capital of India, due to very high concentration of technology companies in the city. The hackathon will be from January 19th to 21st, and will be followed by a blockchain.
Blockchain is a technology that ensures immutable record and complete audit trail, because, a network of computers maintain a shared, verifiable, and permanent record of data. In this distributed database each node is considered as a ledger, and the entire database is maintained by all nodes. Changing or deleting an existing block is not possible, hence, to update a blockchain, a new block has to be created. To create a new block, each “Miner”, i.e. the combination of powerful software, specially designed hardware, and their user, has to provide proof of work (POW) for the last recorded block in the blockchain, using a massive number-crunching operation done at high speed. This is in an environment where many other miners are also doing the same, which makes it more difficult for any miner to provide POW. This makes updating blockchain very hard, i.e. only when a miner provides proof of very significant number-crunching work done, he/she gets to create a new block. Hacking blockchain is, hence, not economically viable. It’s also the underlying technology of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. It’s the assurance that records once stored will exist forever and can’t be tampered with that’s fuelling interest from government entities into this technology, because immutable record and complete audit trail are important considerations in public service delivery.
The government of Karnataka is considering several use cases that touch upon the areas of law-and-order, transportation, tourism, agriculture, and finance. Some of the use cases under consideration are:
- Beneficiary management of welfare schemes;
- Tracking the chain of custody of agricultural or horticultural produce for better quality, which should also ensure better price for the farmers;
- Identity ownership management for data privacy;
- Real-time management of land records and land revenue records.
The hackathon process is expected to be attended by senior government functionaries, industry experts, knowledge partners of the government, and academia. The deliverables of the hackathon will include a statement of the use case, functional code, elaboration of blockchain usage in the solution, design principles used, and fitment of the solution in the government context. The winners of the hackathon will be invited to participate in the blockchain summit on February 16th, organized again by the Karnataka state government. In this summit the use cases are expected to be expanded and developed further, before adoption by the Karnataka state government.
This interest evinced by the Karnataka state government comes close on the heels of Indian central government-owned premier policy Think Tank National Institution for Transforming India, or NITI Aayog, starting to explore blockchain technology. NITI Aayog is working with a partner and building IndiaChain, the largest blockchain network in India, which will also be connected with AADHAR (literally meaning “Foundation”), which is the unique identify issued to Indian residents, and is based on biometrics technology.
The state governments of two other southern Indian states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and those of two western Indian states, Gujarat and Maharashtra, have also started to explore blockchain technology. Incidentally, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which controls monetary policy in India, does not yet recognize cryptocurrencies as valid tenders, and has issued multiple warning to Indian citizens that anyone trading in cryptocurrencies will need to do so at their own risk. Given this context, it is certainly a positive indication that the central and state governments in India are viewing blockchain on its own merit, without allowing their judgment to be colored by Bitcoin.
In the corporate sector, one of the largest mobile network operators in India, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, better known as Jio, has announced their plan to enter the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. Companies such as Bajaj Finserv and Bajaj Electricals are already using blockchain technology to deliver better services to their clients.