by Cindy Huynh
India’s Andhra Pradesh is currently digitalizing and documenting agricultural land on the blockchain network. While the decentralized distributed ledger system is a significant improvement from Andhra Pradesh’s older databases, Quartz India has noted that private blockchain systems remain susceptible to corruption. Unfortunately, advanced technology cannot absolve complete responsibility from users and administrators. It becomes increasingly difficult when there is a high level of distrust and lack of transparency in India’s land registration history.
Andhra Pradesh Government Records Land on the Blockchain Network for the New Capital City
According to Quartz India, Andhra Pradesh is acquiring 217 square kilometers of agricultural farmland to build Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh’s capital city. The process of documenting land for the new capital is being done on the blockchain. In theory, the blockchain provides transparency across all parties involved. Any changes to the system can, therefore, be tracked.
So far, over 24,000 farmers from 22 villages in Guntur have participated in the blockchain land registration and barter process. The government hopes that the use of blockchain technology will result in a decline in instances of property fraud. Some farmers have embraced the new process, like Tharigopula Samasiva Rao. Rao worked out an agreement with the state government of Andhra Pradesh for his land and stated about the blockchain system,
“Now we don’t have the headache of hiring a document writer to prepare our papers…The records are generated and sent automatically to the registration office. With this new technology, we knew there would be full security, no double registrations, no duplicates.”
To store land ownership and rights, the Andhra Pradesh government worked with Zebi, a blockchain-based provider that uses cryptography to securely store the information. The team moved 83,000 records to the blockchain database by March 2018. Prior to the new blockchain system, anyone with access to the older database could modify the data, and hackers or those with inside access had programs to cover their tracks. According to Zebi co-founder, Babu Munagala, “All of those dangers go away (with blockchain).”
Advanced Blockchain Technology Can Only Go so Far
While blockchain technology is an upgrade from the old database, it may not be enough to stave off corruption in India’s land-acquisition process. As stated by Quartz India, one government official estimated that in India in 2017, almost $700 million was doled out in bribes to land registrars. Unfortunately, many farmers are susceptible to unfair tactics by Indian government officials, who will continue to operate regardless of whether a new blockchain network is implemented.
In the case of Amaravati, two land owners have reported such tactics. One man claims he and his family were intimidated by a deputy collector who came to his home to pressure him into giving up his portion of land. The deputy collector reportedly threatened using false documents and taking the land. In another case, a man said that denial of electric and water supplies were used by the government to attempt to bully him into releasing his piece of land. Another local claimed that bribes would not stop in light of the new system, stating that the right amount of money to the right person would continue to get records changed.
As such, many Indian farmers are skeptical that the blockchain system can eliminate corruption when many steps of the process are still subject to actions of the officials. There are concerns that authorities could maliciously input incorrect information or deny the release of information pertaining to accusations of fraud. Since the Andhra Pradesh government is using a private blockchain rather than a public blockchain, the public has limited access to the information it stores and still must rely on government channels to investigate suspected fraud or inaccurate information.
Despite the many doubts that the new system can solve the corruption issue, many see it as a step forward. Cherukuri Sreedhar, the commissioner of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority, believes it is an improvement. Sreedhar mentioned specifically that the new technology will record attempts to modify data and would immutably preserve original data, whereas foul play was more difficult to trace in the previous system.