Almost 52,974 cases were registered under Cyber Crimes in 2021 where forged documents were used to avail the benefits of government schemes, according to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau in August 2022.
To counter such crimes, the Maharashtra government launched a Pilot Project of issuing caste certificates through blockchain technology, which was experimented in April 2022 in the Gadchiroli district.
The Project is being rolled out in the Etapalli sub-division which comprises the villages of Etapalli and Bhamragad, with a vast tribal population. The pilot (beta version) of the project was launched in April 2022, the project was functional in its full capacity in September 2022. The person behind the initiative is Shubham Gupta, an Indian Administrative Service officer. Currently posted as Subdivisional officer, in Etapalli, the officer speaks about the current status of the project with The Statesman correspondent Nitin Anand.
Q. What is the idea behind using blockchain technology to issue caste certificates?
Ans: The government is always on the lookout to implement disruptive technologies that can help it democratize citizen services. The Internet has been the greatest tool that has helped the state to widen its reach of citizen services. The massive success of the ‘MahaIT’ system in Maharashtra for delivery of citizen service/ E-governance to the masses is a testimony to this fact.
However, web3 takes the concept of democratization to a whole new level, whereby, data/information can not only be made openly sharable but can also be made openly unfalsifiable. Web3 is a true personification of property rights. In fact, top E-governments such as Singapore and Malta have been betting huge on it. Therefore, it felt important for us to embrace web3 since it can aid us to achieve our mandate of true democratization of citizen services.
Currently, the state issues digitally signed caste certificates to its citizens via the ‘MahaOnline’ portal. However, the majority of the population holds caste certificates in paper printouts for convenience, a physical document that is challenging to authenticate and verify, via signatures on printed papers. While the departments which have issued the caste certificates can internally track these documents with the help of the application numbers on them – such a process is administratively intensive and there’s no easy mechanism for external parties to verify the data.
The proposed blockchain system cryptographically commits selective details of every caste certificate fetched from the ‘MahaOnline’ portal on the polygon POS blockchain and generates a unique QR code consisting of blockchain proofs embedded on each caste certificate. These certificates will be issued to the citizens via common service centres (CSC), which are already functional across all villages. Subsequently, the open verification system available on the government website will enable government departments, or any other third parties, to verify the authenticity of a certificate with the click of a button.
As the first step, the project is being rolled out in the Etapalli sub-division which comprises the villages of Etapalli and Bhamragad, which have a vast tribal population who need the caste certificates, in order to gain access to benefits and subsidies provided to them under the various government schemes. Upon complete rollout, the system will prevent miscreants and anti-social elements from misusing the caste certificates to avail of any kind of benefits being provided by the government for the scheduled castes and tribes. Presently during elections, the people contesting misuse caste certificates for personal gains. There are people who create fake caste certificates to secure government jobs, admissions to educational institutions and to avail of other government schemes.
Q. What are the reasons behind the selection of the Etapalli sub-division of the Gadchiroli district for the first-of-its-kind project?
Ans: The selection of the Etapalli sub-division of Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra is due to the efforts of the district administration of Gadchiroli that wanted to project this pilot as a case study for the entire state of Maharashtra to follow up at a much larger scale. It was also done so as to present a radically different and revolutionary image of the district of Gadchiroli as well as the sub-division of Etapalli as compared to the generally perceived image of being left-wing affected and other infrastructural bottlenecks. It also so happened that all the willing officers were present in the right place at the right time to see this first-of-a-kind project through in this place.
Q. What is the status of the first phase of the project? Is it completed with its delivery of certificates to 65,000 people?
Ans: The pilot (beta version) of the project was launched in April 2022. Afterwards, the project has been made functional at its full capacity and functionality in September 2022 and the certificates started to be issued on this platform. However, it will take another 3 months to finish the first stage of the project of issuing around 65000 caste certificates on the blockchain.
Q. Which platform is used to secure the data and how does this technology secure the data of individuals?
Ans: The proposed blockchain system cryptographically commits selective details of every caste certificate fetched from the ‘MahaOnline’ portal on the polygon POS blockchain and generates a unique QR code consisting of blockchain proofs embedded on each caste certificate.
While picking up data points from the already issued caste certificates from the Maha-Online database, key fields are hashed into cryptographically soundproof. Consequently, all such hashed proofs are hashed together to generate a single hash which is then stored on the blockchain for verification later on. Since no actual data is stored on a blockchain, the database of citizens is completely secure and private.
Q. What are the problems faced by local administrations in the implementation of this project?
Ans: Integration of the system with the already functional NIC website was a challenge that the administration had to overcome. Additionally, training of the staff was another bottleneck which was removed with the help of continued training and problem-solving sessions.
Q. What are the technological challenges in the process? How administration will address them?
Ans: There aren’t many technological challenges in the implementation of this project. It has been envisioned to function as a decentralised system to provide speedy and accurate services to the people. In fact, the challenge lies in maximising the opportunities that this project presents in front of us.
For instance, one such challenge can be to institutionalise a system wherein if a person enters the blockchain system at any point in time, his/her family members don’t need to go through the grind of submitting applications and supporting documents to avail their claim for any benefit. The blockchain system itself serves as a source of proof for their identity verification.
A polygon public blockchain-based platform, LegitDoc issue this certificate to people. LegitDoc had earlier helped the Maharashtra government in using the blockchain system for the issuance of educational certificates.