Vizag, or Visakhapatnam, is set to become India’s first blockchain hub, if everything goes according to plan. And, a bunch of tech startups will be the link to Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s ambitious fintech valley initiative.
Naidu’s love for technology in running the day-to-day affairs of his government goes back almost two decades when he was the CM of united Andhra between 1994 and 2004.
But his recent call on technology through a two-day event, saw India- and Southeast Asia-based blockchain and cryptocurrency startup Belfrics and New York-based blockchain firm ConsenSys emerge as the lead players to drive the state’s administrative functions using blockchain technology.
While Belfrics offers a bitcoin exchange, a wallet and a payment platform, among other services, ConsenSys, which was incorporated in 2014 by one of the co-founders of Ethereum blockchain network, Joseph Lubin, has a global presence with offices in London, Paris and Dubai.
Belfrics CEO Praveen Kumar told TechCircle that the startup has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Andhra government to help the state machinery as well as private entities implement blockchain across business processes.
“Birth registry and identity management will be at the heart of infusing blockchain technology in the state. Imagine the benefits for the state and its people if all their identities are on the blockchain. It is a clear roadmap for good governance,” said Kumar, adding that the startup will also add to the ongoing multi-party venture of bringing land registry on blockchain.
While his company continues to develop proof of concepts for the government, Kumar said blockchain-based identity management and birth registration services should roll out in 2019. “Today we have Identity providers who issue a physical/digital identity on a central database. The service providers identify end users using these identities and provide services. The problem with the current system is that the service providers have no way to verify whether the identity provided by the user is genuine or not. This is where, blockchains can come to the rescue.”
According to Kumar, if the certificates are issued on a blockchain network, the user can be the owner of his/her own data and share it with parties on a need-to-know basis. The ingenuity of the certificates can also be easily verified by end parties given that the certificates are timestamped and immutable.
“A system can be built for issuing educational certificates, employment certificates, driver certificates and any other, and it can bring down customer onboarding costs and operation times effectively.”
“In case of birth registry, the solution will also allow doctors, parents and the relatives present at the time of birth to log and register the event along with all necessary details using respective private keys. The newborn can be issued a digital identity immediately. It may be the basis of any additional identities, including for land registration and e-voting, which he or she may acquire during the course of life,” he added.
The company is also working on implementing blockchain on the state’s e-tender process to make it more secure and transparent. “The use of blockchain is going to root out corruption from the entire process. Using blockchains for bidding we can build a closed bidding system where the bids are closed until the dead line. Once the deadline is reached the winner is automatically chosen by the smart contract and all the bids are made public. This increases the trust within the system and gives equal opportunities to small and medium scale industries.”
“We are working with state-run and private universities to implement blockchain on graduation certificates. The chain, which will be operational by the time the next batch is ready to graduate, will deliver the certificates on the chain.” Kumar said that this initiative will help the universities secure the students’ records and ensure easy access of the certificates when needed.
The company also has plans to put the entire education record of a student on the chain. “The implementation of blockchain on the entire record of a student is going to make it easier for new-age employers and job seekers. The course of education is changing. For example, if you were to take a specific course on, say, flying cars, then that certificate can be added easily to the record for the job seeker to see,” he explained.
The company is also planning to teach college students about blockchain tech through Belfrics Academy. “We want to teach students about the new technology so that they can add to the new workforce which will soon be in high demand in the country.”
“There are so many use-cases. For example, we can even deploy our solution to sectors such as forests and fisheries. However, those areas haven't been opened up yet. The Andhra government is in continuous talks with us in exploring newer use cases,” Kumar said.
Belfrics Global, founded by Kumar in 2014, first developed a currency exchange in Singapore in 2016, followed by its India and Kenya launch in 2017.
According to Kumar, the company was the first cryptocurrency firm in West Asia to get a ‘Sandbox License’ from the Central Bank of Bahrain. The approval granted by the bank allowed the company to get access to the $50-billion digital transaction industry of West Asian and North African nations.
Kumar said the government will pay the company for the blockchain projects. For private projects, the company was not considering a bake-and-sell route, but was willing to play a partnership role as the technology is still new.
ConsenSys, too, has signed an MoU with the Andhra government to spearhead its technology-driven education initiatives.
The Economic Times reported that ConsenSys Academy, a blockchain education platform, will steer the state government’s initiative to bridge the deep ethereum knowledge gap and revolutionise education through blockchain technology.
ConsenSys executive director Kavita Gupta told the financial daily that traditional education programmes will not be able keep up with the rapidly developing pace of Ethereum and blockchain as a whole. “So, there’s a need to continue educating new participants in the blockchain ecosystem.”
The Andhra government is expected to help the company with infrastructure costs, besides recruitment, the report added.
“We believe that Blockchain technology has tremendous potential to revolutionise the way governments, institutions and corporates function. It also has the potential to transform multiple industries and make processes more democratic, secure, transparent and efficient,” Andhra IT Minister Nara Lokesh was quoted in the report.
Interest in blockchain has seen phenomenal rise after Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the government will explore the use of the technology proactively for ushering in a digital economy.
The Andhra government initiative also comes at a time when Niti Aayog, the country’s policy think tank, is working on implementing blockchain in health and education.
A report from job portal Indeed was also upbeat about job postings related to blockchain and cryptocurrency despite regulatory uncertainties.
According to the report, in the six months to November 2017, the number of cryptocurrency and blockchain jobs posted on its website rose 290%. In the same period, job searches with keywords related to cryptocurrency and blockchain rose 52%.