QUESTION : What do you understand by blockchain technology? Evaluate its prospects and challenges.
IN BLOCK-CHAIN VOTING ,LEAVE OUT THE GENERAL ELECTION
Block-chain Technology And Voting
WHY IN NEWS ?
The Election Commission in August 2020, held an online conference in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (“TNeGA”) and IIT Madras, through which they explored the possibility of using blockchain technology for the purpose of enabling remote elections.
BLOCK-CHAIN TECHNOLOGY ?
- A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information which is replicated across various nodes on a “peer-to-peer” network (P2P Network).
- The purpose of technology is of ensuring integrity and verifiability of data stored on the ledger.
- Blockchain ledgers have traditionally been used as supporting structures for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum,however, their use in non-cryptocurrency applications too has seen a steady rise like enabling remote voting and elections.
APPLICATIONS OF Blockchain technology:
Blockchain technology can enhance public health by creating a secure and flexible ecosystem for exchanging electronic health records (EHRs). This technology could also make the space more transparent by creating provenances for critical drugs, blood, organs, etc. In addition, by putting all medical licenses on a Blockchain, fraudulent doctors can be prevented from practising.
Student records, faculty records and educational certificates can be maintained with the application of Blockchain technology. Blockchain can also simplify certificate attestation and verification. It could even transform the manner in which the policy for educational inclusion is framed by bringing in base uniformity in the tracking of national metrics.
Blockchain technology can be used to increase transparency, reduce complexity and cost in food-based value chains by enabling trustworthy provenance and traceability from farmer to consumer. Other possible applications include the use of blockchain technology to record and manage agricultural land records as well as agriculture insurance.
- Civil Registration:
The civil registration process can be simplified through the application of Blockchain technology to create distributed citizen registration platforms and even register vital events such as births and deaths on a blockchain. This can help make citizen records tamper-proof, resilient, secure and private, thus providing wide-ranging benefits for a variety of stakeholders.
Blockchain technology can be used to efficiently maintain and track information regarding defence infrastructure and computer.
Blockchain technology can be used to check government corruption, increase efficiency and transparency. Linking file and data movement between departments through a Blockchain would increase visibility into the process and ensure that the data/file moves forward in real time.
- Banking and Financial Sector:
Blockchain technology can be used in money transfers, record keeping and other back-end functions in the bank.
ADVANTAGES of Blockchain technology:
Data in Blockchain technology is almost open source- other users or developers have the opportunity to modify it as they see fit. However, altering logged data within a Blockchain incredibly difficult. This makes Blockchain a particularly secure technology.
- Cost efficient:
Blockchain allows peer-to-peer and business-to-business transactions to be completed without the need for a third party, which is often a bank. Since there’s no middleman involvement tied to Blockchain transactions, it is cost-efficient.
Due to decentralized networks, Blockchain does not have a single point of failure and is better able to withstand malicious attacks.
- High Quality Data:
Blockchain data is complete, timely, accurate, consistent and widely available
- Empowered users:
Users are in control of their data and information.
- Simplification in data management:
With all data collected in single public ledger, it reduces the clutter and complications of multiple ledgers.
- Nascent technology: Blockchain is still a nascent technology and there are issues such as complex verification process, data limits etc
- Large energy consumption: Blockchain technology uses substantial amount of computer power.
- Security and privacy: Though considered highly secure, there are still cyber security concerns that need to ensured before general public trust Blockchain technology with their personal data.
- Cost: High initial capital cost is a deterrent.
BENEFITS OF REMOTE VOTING :
- Solved the problem of ballot portability: Remote voting would appear to benefit internal migrants and seasonal workers, who account for roughly 51 million of the populace (Census 2011).
- Useful for People in Remote Places: The envisioned solution might also be useful for some remotely-stationed members of the Indian armed forces (although that exhaustive infrastructure of Elections has helped address this).
- Helps Increase Voter Participation: Remote voting solutions may facilitate the participation in elections by specific groups of citizens, including expats, military voters, voters resident in health and care institutions, and prisoners.
- Speed and Secure: The blockchain-based voting system not only provides real-time results, but also ensures that the counting is foolproof, and with blockchain, nobody can tamper the results.
CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH BLOCK-CHAIN REMOTE VOTING :
- Requirement of physical presence and biometric authentication: The electors would still have to physically reach a designated venue in order to cast their vote, whereby systems would use “white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines”, and the system would make use of the biometric attributes of electors.
- Adds Vulnerability to failure: Digitisation and interconnectivity introduce additional points of failure external to the processes which exist in the present day.
- Technology not yet fully secure: Blockchain solutions rely heavily on the proper implementation of cryptographic protocols. If any shortcomings exist in an implementation, it might be misused.
- Prone to targeted Denial-of-Service attacks -where an attacker would be in a position to block traffic from the system, effectively preventing, or at the very least delaying the registration of votes.
- Privacy Issues: With such intrusive technology being used in elections, which when interconnected can go against the Puttaswamy judgement [on the right to privacy]
Any solution to electoral problems must be software independent and fault tolerable, where failure or tampering of one mechanism — or several — would not affect the integrity or transparency of the overall process.
WAY FORWARD :
- Although India is still at the nascent stage in exploring Blockchain technology, it holds is immense potential for Blockchain applications.
- The key lies in overcoming the challenges faced during the early adoption phase – if we can get past the obstacles in the initial stage, Blockchain tech can be put to good use to strengthen the Indian economy.
- Instead, the existing systems like the postal ballots and proxy voting provisions should be improved upon to make the systems more inclusive and also robust.
- Even if the Election Commission is able to design a system which is proven to be satisfactorily secure, such a system should be limited only to lower-level elections, and not for something as significant as the general election.
QUESTION : Critically examine whether Bt Cotton has helped Indian farmers and Indian economy? Do you think government should stop resisting the usage of such technology?
Topic- THE TWISTED TRAJECTORY OF BT COTTON
Bt Cotton Cultivation In India
WHY IN NEWS ?
Despite finding huge favour in India , the GM crop has only brought modest benefits
COTTON CULTIVATION IN INDIA:
- Cotton is one of the most important fibres and cash crops of India and plays a dominant role in the industrial and agricultural economy of the country.
- Cotton in India provides direct livelihood to 6 million farmers and about 40 – 50 million people are employed in the cotton trade and its processing.
- Production & Consumption: India is the country to grow all four species of cultivated cotton Gossypiumarboreum and herbaceum (Asian cotton), G.barbadense (Egyptian cotton) and G. hirsutum (American Upland cotton). Gossypiumhirsutum represents 88% of the hybrid cotton production in India and all the current Bt cotton hybrids are G.hirsutuim. In India, majority of the cotton production comes from nine major cotton growing states, which are grouped into three diverse
- agro-ecological zones, as under:-
- i) Northern Zone – Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
- ii) Central Zone – Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
- iii) Southern Zone – Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) CROPS ?
- GM is a technology that involves inserting DNA into the genome of an organism.
- To produce a GM plant, new DNA is transferred into plant cells. Usually, the cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants will inherit the new DNA.
- One of the methods used to transfer DNA is to coat the surface of small metal particles with the relevant DNA fragment, and bombard the particles into the plant cells.
- Another method is to use a bacterium or virus. The viruses and bacteria transfer their DNA into a host cell as a normal part of their life cycle. For GM plants, the bacterium most frequently used is called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The gene of interest is transferred into the bacterium and the bacterial cells then transfer the new DNA to the genome of the plant cells.
ADVANTAGES OF GM CROPS :
- Crop Protection:
The initial objective for developing GM plants was to improve crop protection. GM crops have improved resistance to diseases, pest, insects and herbicides. They also have improved tolerance to cold/heat, drought and salinity.
- Insect resistance is achieved by incorporating into the food plant the gene for toxin production from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
- Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants.
- Herbicide tolerance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from a bacterium conveying resistance to some herbicides.
- Economic benefits:
- GM crops can increase yield and thus income.
- Genetically modified foods have a longer shelf life. This improves how long they last and stay fresh during transportation and storage.
- Given the increased growth of global population and increased urbanisation, GM crops offer one of the promising solutions to meet the world’s food security needs.
ISSUES WITH GM CROPS :
- HUMAN HEALTH RISKS :
Potential impact on human health, including allergies and transfer of antibiotic resistance markers.
- ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS :
- They can reduce species diversity. For example, Insect-resistant plants might harm insects that are not their intended target and thus result in destruction of that particular species.
- GM technology could also allow the transfer of genes from one crop to another, creating “super weeds”, which will be immune to common control methods.
- Viral genes added to crops to confer resistance might be transferred to other viral pathogens, which can lead to new and more virulent virus strains.
- ECONOMIC CONCERNS :
- Introduction of a GM crop to market is a lengthy and costly process.
- It does not result in high yields as promised. For instance, the highest yields in mustard are from the five countries which do not grow GM mustard — U.K., France, Poland, Germany and Czech Republic — and not from the GM-growing U.S. or Canada.
Critics claim that patent laws give developers of the GM crops a dangerous degree of control over the food supply. The concern is over domination of world food production by a few companies.
- ETHICAL CONCERNS :
- Violation of natural organisms’ intrinsic values by mixing among species.
- There have also been objections to consuming animal genes in plants.
INTRODUCTION OF BT-COTTON :
- Bt cotton is an insect-resistant transgenic crop designed to combat the bollworm.
- Bt cotton was created by genetically altering the cotton genome to express a microbial protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
- In short, the transgene inserted into the plant’s genome produces toxin crystals that the plant would not normally produce which, when ingested by a certain population of organisms, dissolves the gut lining, leading to the organism’s death.
BENEFITS OF BT COTTON :
- The resistance to pests reduces the plants’ vulnerability to pest attacks and thus helps increase the yield from the plant.
- One study has noted that the adoption of Bt cotton is said to have increased cotton production from India by three times between 2002-2014.
- The inherent resistance to pest attacks would also help reduce insecticide spraying on the cotton plant.
- This would help reduce the cost of cotton cultivation for the farmers and also would ensure better safety for the farmers due to reduced exposure of farmers to toxic insecticides and pesticides.
- The use of Bt cotton would also lead to some environmental benefits.
- The reduced pesticide usage would lead to lesser environmental pollution by these harmful chemicals.
CONCERNS WITH BT COTTON –
Questions over yield:
- Recent studies have questioned the yield improvements being attributed to the adoption of Bt. Cotton.
- They note that the contribution of Bt cotton to yield increase was only about 4% each year and the current yields were lower than in the initial years of Bt adoption.
Increasing resistance of pests:
- There are indications that the PBW has developed a resistance to Bt cotton in India. Bollworm spraying has begun to increase. With rising acreage under Bt cotton cultivation, expenditures for spraying for sucking pests also went up.
- By 2018, farmers were spending an average of $23.58 per hectare on insecticide — 37% more than the pre-Bt levels.
Neglect of desi varieties:
- The growing share of Bt Cotton has led to the neglect of the desi varieties.
- The cost of ignoring ‘desi’ varieties would lead to loss of the biological potential and diversity offered by these.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS ?
Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offence under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989. Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966 and the Cotton Act of 1957. The Environmental Protection Act provides for a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violation of its provisions, and cases can be filed under the other two Acts.
PROPOSED SOLUTIONS :
- Shifting to short duration varieties and short duration crops (140 – 160 days).
- Moving away from the Bt technology all together in some regions. Some researchers suggest that Bt cotton in not necessary in some areas
- Organic cotton cultivation – backed by research suitable to the agro climatic conditions of India.
- Tackling resistance to pink bollworm through practices like Integrated Pest Management.
- It is time to pay attention to science and acknowledge that Bt cotton has failed in India, and not enter into further misadventures with other Bt crops such as brinjal or herbi-cide resistance.
- Biotechnology can be one of the many tools that can help in addressing the issues of food and nutrition security, climate change, etc. Further steps in the GM technology should be taken with proper consultation of all the stakeholders involved and adequate scientific evidence.