Blockchain is helping build a new Indian city, but it’s no cure for corruption

Ananya Bhattacharya at Quartz: “Last year, Tharigopula Sambasiva Rao entered into a deal with the state government of Andhra Pradesh. He gave up six acres of his agricultural land in his village, Sakhamuru, in exchange for 7,250 square yards—6,000 square yards of residential plots and 1,250 square yards of commercial ones.

In February this year, the 50-year-old farmer got his plots registered at the sub-registrar’s office in Thullur town of Guntur district. He booked an appointment through a government-run app and turned up with his Aadhaar number, a unique identity provided by the government of India to every citizen. Rao’s land documents, complete with a map, certificate, and carrying a unique QR code, were prepared by officials and sent directly to the registration office, all done in just a couple of hours.

Kommineni Ramanjaneyulu, another farmer from around Thullur, exchanged 4.5 acres for 10 plots. The 83-year-old was wary of this new technology deployed to streamline the land registration process. However, he was relieved to see the documents for his new assets in his native language, Telugu. There was no information gap….

In theory, blockchain can store land documents in a tamper-proof, secure network, reducing human interventions and adding more transparency. Data is solidified and the transaction history of a property is fully trackable. This has the potential to reduce, if not entirely prevent, property fraud. But unlike in the case of bitcoin, the blockchain utilised by the government agency in charge of shaping Amaravati is private.

So, despite the promise on paper, local landowners and farmers remain convinced that there’s no escaping red tape and corruption yet….

The entire documentation process for this massive exercise is based on blockchain. The decentralised distributed ledger system—central to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether—can create foolproof digitised land registries of the residential and commercial plots allotted to farmers. It essentially serves as a book-keeping tool that can be accessed by all but is owned by none…

Having seen the government’s dirty tricks, most of the farmers gathered at Rayapudi aren’t buying the claim that the system is tamper-proof—especially at the stages before the information is moved to blockchain. After all, assignments and verifications are still being done by revenue officers on the ground.

That the Andhra Pradesh government is using a private blockchain complicates things further. The public can view information but not directly monitor whether any illicit changes have been made to their records. They have to go through the usual red tape to get those answers. The system may not be susceptible to hacking, but authorities could deliberately enter wrong information or refuse to reveal instances of fraud even if they are logged. This is the farmers’ biggest concern.

“The tampering cannot be stopped. If you give the right people a lot of bribe, they will go in and change the record,” said Seshagiri Rao. Nearly $700 million is paid in bribes across land registrars in India, an Andhra Pradesh government official estimated last year, and even probes into these matters are often flawed….(More)”.