Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
General Studies 3
Science and Technology? developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
Introduction: Allegations of EVM tampering by political parties have certainly planted seeds of mistrust among the people. Studies allege that EVMs have hardware and software vulnerabilities that can be exploited to commit election malpractices.
Contemporary and emerging technologies seek to address the core incompetencies in the infrastructure of the voting system through advances in networking and encryption methods. An emerging technology called blockchain is in various stages of implementation across the world for voting and other public services.
Blockchain technology-An introduction: Blockchain can be thought of as a public account ledger, an immutable, transparent and permanent one. Each transaction is recorded and stored in the ledger that is out on a public bulletin board. Every transaction adds a block to the chain of transactions and each one is evaluated by every user based on algorithms they’ve agreed upon. Rather than being kept in single location, a copy of the blockchain is stored on every user’s server so that a user cannot alter it without other users finding out. Even though blockchain was conceived for financial transactions, its characteristics make it an apt solution that can support voting systems. Due to its unique attributes of trust, transparency and immutability, such a system is expected to mitigate issues like vote manipulation in political processes.
Blockchain voting- How it works? In blockchain voting, each transaction is similar to a vote and through the use of multiple blockchains along with public key encryption, the voting process is secured while protecting the anonymity of voters. The votes can then be randomized more than three times in the digital ballot box so that voters’ identities are not revealed. After the polls are closed, a separate blockchain application is created for the counting of votes in the digital ballot box. That blockchain should match the public bulletin board’s blockchain, proving that the online voting system has operated correctly. Blockchains are transparent and designed to have a decentralized authority which ensures that control is not in one hand and the process is visible to the public always. Further, the audit trail of the transactions combined with public key encryption solves the issue of auditability.
Examples from across the world: Some countries are already experimenting with blockchain technology in voting processes and for delivering public services.
Australia has declared its plan for using blockchain in voting and began projects for prototyping the technology a couple of years ago.
In 2014, Denmark’s Liberal Alliance political party voted in a blockchain-based system for its internal elections. Such systems have also been adopted in Norway and Spain.
Malta with a small population of 450,000, is about to embrace blockchain in land registry, voting and other national services.
In South Korea, a community government used the blockchain platform in a local funding ballot where around 9,000 votes were submitted. The platform made use of smart contracts to facilitate the voting process.
Blocko, the Korean firm that developed the platform, claims that the technology, developed in-house, helped register data, including voters’ information, voting contents and more, on a blockchain.
In India, given the deep penetration of cellphones and the unique identification (Aadhaar) system, blockchain could be a practical and feasible tool to fight voter fraud and alleviate vote authentication and validation concerns.
Aadhaar cards and electronic-know your customer (e-KYC) norms are already becoming mainstream. These critical infrastructure components can be leveraged to implement blockchain solutions in voting and public services such as land registrations, public-private contracts and other service level agreements (SLA).
The technology sector is also responding positively by increasing investments and resources. For instance, around 32 blockchain firms were founded in India in 2016, up from 23 founded before 2016, according to a fintech report by PwC.
The Reserve Bank of India’s research arm has also developed proof of concepts with a few banks on blockchain, and it said in its white paper that “the results are quite encouraging, giving comfort and confidence in the implementability of blockchain technology”.
The proactive study and prototyping of emerging technologies creates an encouraging environment for other independent government agencies to venture out and experiment.
Conclusion: Keeping in mind the emerging and potential threats to the current voting system, it is essential to experiment with new technologies that can potentially secure the system. Conducting research, building proof of concepts and end-to-end pilots by leveraging the burgeoning activity in blockchain technology can be undertaken by the ECI. Given the favourable conditions of improved infrastructure and interest, the time is ripe for the ECI to explore blockchain technology as a future alternative to EVMs.
Connecting the dots:
Recent allegations of EVM tampering must be dealt with seriously as free and fair elections is bedrock of Indian democracy. Discuss how technology like Blockchain can be used to make EVMs tamper proof.
Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Smart City Mission: Challenges and Way ahead
In news: The Union Ministry of Urban Development’s ministry recently released its fourth list under the Smart City Mission, taking the total number of cities picked under the Centre’s flagship project to 90 — 10 more cities will be included in the project.
Background: Smart Cities can be defined as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and our own bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems”. One of the stated objectives of the Smart City Mission is to act as a corrective to a lopsided developmental pattern. The mission intends to “create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and disadvantaged leading to inclusive cities”.
Official data shows that merely half of the urban households have water connections, a third have no toilets, the national average for sewage network coverage is a low 12 per cent, and on an average only about 10 per cent of the municipal solid waste is segregated. Public transportation and public schools and hospitals are woefully disproportionate to the population densities within cities.
Although India’s Smart Cities Mission has identified more than 20 priority areas, interventions by the respective agencies are weak.
The emphasis on inclusive development has been diluted. Only 26 of the cities selected last week have plans to provide affordable housing, education and medical facilities.
Smart city plans have also not found a way to deal with recurring problems. For instance, Aizawl, which found a place in the urban development ministry’s latest list, was in the grip of a severe water crisis in the third week of this month. The shortage was caused by damages to water pipelines by floods — a problem which the city has not yet addressed effectively. Guwahati, amongst the earliest to be included in the smart city list, also has no effective plan to deal with floods that ravage it every year.
The path chosen to leapfrog to the level of urbanisation in the developed nations can lead to creation of uneven geographies.
For urban planners, a greater concern is an urbanisation process that accords primacy to technology — a field where the private sector has unchallenged monopoly — over the basic needs of the city.
Plans and models till now that show that almost 80 per cent of the funds are being channelized to less than three per cent area of many mission cities. These are mostly well-off enclaves that already have decent infrastructure in place and are more likely to yield a dividend for private investors.
The government does have plans to promote start-ups and infrastructure projects. But these projects are concentrated in tiny pockets in the selected cities — nearly 80 per cent of the Centre’s funds are skewed towards them. For example, in Pune, from where Prime Minister flagged off the Smart City projects last year, around 75 per cent of the investment will be used for the development of a 3.6 sq km area in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi pocket, which comprises a little more than 1 per cent of the city’s total area.
Unless this urban entropy is addressed first, an overbearing emphasis on application of digital technology or developing smaller areas in an attempt at instant urbanism can have disastrous socio-spatial consequences.
The Smart City mission bypasses democratic processes by executing projects through Special Purpose Vehicles wherein private corporations can have up to 40 per cent share-holding.
The Centre has adopted a ‘managed urbanisation’ approach in the chosen cities, with the powers of municipal councils delegated to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), under the Companies Act, that will act in its own wisdom. Given that this is the model adopted by the two-year-old Mission, the Centre must present a status report on what the SPVs have achieved so far.
Any serious attempt at improving the quality of life in cities would depend on how governments approach data. It would be smart, for instance, to use sensors to estimate the flow of vehicles and pedestrians, and create smartphone applications for the public to report on a variety of parameters.
Making such data open would enable citizens’ groups to themselves come up with analyses to help city administrators make decisions, boost transparency and make officials accountable. Example- Making street-level waste management data public would lead to a heat map of the worst sites, compelling managers to solve the problem.
Access to special funding should make it mandatory for all public transport providers — city bus corporations, Metro Rail and suburban trains — to provide real-time passenger information in the form of open data, an inexpensive global standard that raises both access and efficiency through smartphone applications.
The city development plans should be aligned with some of the government’s employment-generating initiatives, such as Make In India.
It is alright to overlay the city’s infrastructure with technology but, for starters, adequate infrastructure must be in place at a city-wide level. Creation of Smart Cities is a welcome step, but in the process of urbanisation gentrification should not take place.
The ideology that guides the smart cities plan should recognise that the vibrant life of cities depends on variety and enabling environments, rather than a mere technology-led vision. Pollution-free commons, walkability and easy mobility, with a base of reliable civic services, is the smart way to go. As the Centre finalises the list of cities, it needs to remind itself of the original goal of the Smart City Mission — making cities inclusive.
Connecting the dots:
The most important objective of Smart City Mission was to bring in inclusiveness within the city. However the model adopted may lead to gentrification instead. Discuss.
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