Regulatory and tech expert MK Bhandari on the adoption of blockchain in India

September 15, 2022

With over 45 years of teaching, research, mentoring and administration of institutes of higher education and playing key role in the establishment of institutions of higher education. Prof. M.K.Bhandari has established India’s pioneering educational startup Infinity Law- Tech Educational Services ( visit www.iltes.in) specializing in highly transformative technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, fintech and IoT with focus on their interface with regulatory compliances. He has also set up a world-class global academy ILTES Global Online Academy for studies, research, training and consultancy in the domain of technology and law. He spoke to co-founders of NFTMetta.com Allen Cheng and Tsering Namgyal on latest developments in blockchain in India.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your work in blockchain education law and regulatory compliance circles in India today?

A: Well you know the block chain technology was invented in 2009 by an unknown genius known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Nobody knows who he is really except for creation of cryptocurrency and that too the Bitcoin. But later on the application of blockchain technology has flowed into nearly every sector of the economy including the education, healthcare, agriculture, gaming and others. This technology is transparent decentralized ledger where the records are immutable. It cannot be tampered with and it cannot be altered unless there is a majority of the nodes agreeing to that.

This particular technology has been a revolutionary technology and since India is at the cusp of digital transformation, the government and the policymakers are very pro-active and Indian educational providers are also working in sync with the government.

There are, however, a lot of legal issues arising out of use or, I would say, abuse of the cryptocurrency especially the leader of crypto that is Bitcoin. The Indian government has now planned to bring out central bank digital currency and we have named it Laxmi which means the Goddess of Wealth. The Reserve Bank of India is working to roll out central bank digital currency that would further facilitate the use of blockchain technology.

Now coming to specific use cases as you are mentioned that in education now I’m associated with two important apps and are rolling out all the testimonials of these students on blockchain platform that helps them to instantly transfer them to the different universities for admissions and they are tamper-proof as we know that the technology by nature is immutable and it’s decentralized. So, it has been used in education for recording and sharing of educational data of the institutions. It is being used for protection of intellectual property rights like copyrights and trademarks. It is also used for imparting knowledge. We at our organization are using blockchain technology for recording lectures and those lectures can be seen by the participants who are there on the node so in this way it is how blockchain technology is gradually expanding in India.

Now in other sectors, for example, along with AI and IoT again blockchain technology is being used in automation process, in production, in businesses, in banking sector in healthcare services. So, in a nutshell, this blockchain technology has dramatically transformed the business relations and the socio-economic activities. One more thing I would like to say even our Election Commission of India which is the nodal agency for conducting free and fair elections is planning to use blockchain technology for voter identity. Though we have the Unique identity Card (Aadhar) issued by the government of India now we are migrating that system onto blockchain platforms.  So, the apex bodies like NITI Aayog and the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India are planning and we at ILTES have been suggesting that for all these uses of blockchain technology we need a proper regulatory framework and we have to create a law which authorizes smart contracts.

We don’t have a law as of now which validates smart contracts so we are working with the government on how we can get laws to encourage the use of blockchain technology in diverse fields.

Q: What type of blockchain courses your venture ILTES is offering and who are some of the people who are taking these courses?

A: Basically, we are an educational startup in law-tech domain and blockchain is one of our major areas where we are working on blockchain along with the cryptocurrencies, which is the main part of the blockchain innovation. So, we have been conducting series of programs for initial students. We have been conducting online and offline internships so we call them at our place or we contact online also at different universities and tell them about the basic principles of blockchain technology, especially the ethical aspect, the regulatory aspect, and basic knowledge. For a period of three to four weeks we give them exercises, we give them lectures and also give them hands-on experimentations. We have a team of around seventy-five experts thirteen of which are from overseas and around sixty are in India.  So, they are our resource persons and our faculty members and whatever type of course we offer we take these services because my major area is legal and policy formulation so for technological aspect I engage our experts who are our members and we pay them according to the work we commission them. Then we have conducted faculty development programs for sensitizing our teachers who are going to teach in the universities so we have conducted two online faculty development programs. We held a conference in Hyderabad pre-Covid, where we invited very eminent experts from across the world. It was a setting of the stage for our work and later we have conducted one blockchain advisor course in collaboration with the government blockchain association and Satoshi School Germany. So, in collaboration with them we have conducted a four-week advance course.

There were sixteen participants, 12 Indian and four overseas participants. They enrolled and we conducted the course on different aspects of the blockchain applications, possible regulations on blockchain and they were participants from the US, Australia, Germany, Spain. So, this is how now we are again planning some basic courses for university students. Some universities are interested in taking those courses so this is how we are constantly trying to create an ecosystem and environment of learning in our younger generation.

Because this is the technology of the future, blockchain adoption is gradually increasing every day and it’s going to be a major player in the tech domain. Therefore, we want that our young students and teachers to know about the technology as well as its legal, regulatory and ethical aspects. Data privacy is one of the main concerns and because sometimes there are abuses of data.  So, we also work with the government and tell them that we need a strong data protection law as we have in European countries or US or other part of the world.

Q: You are for many years a well-regarded legal and constitutional scholar and so please tell us like how did you get into this blockchain?

A: It’s really a very interesting and a very important question you have asked me. I was in Bombay with Narsee Monjee Institute which is among the top ten universities in India. I was there as a group director for legal affairs. One day in 2016 one gentlemen came to me with some reference and he told me that they were conducting a big international conference on blockchain and they wanted a lecture from me on blockchain and its regulatory aspects because for technical aspects they had a lot of speakers but they did not have anyone to speak on the legal aspect.

I said I am not very well versed with the technology though I’ve heard about it. I asked them to give me ten days’ time and I’ll come back to them. In those ten days, I studied a lot, I consulted some of the technical experts who are part of our university. I asked them about the basics of blockchain and its merits and demerits and after ten days I agreed to deliver a lecture. It was a turning point.

Then I thought that now I should devote more time to this technology and its legal aspects, so I started reading as well as attending programs I visited international conferences and I discussed it with my friend overseas friends.

Now after five to six years of my engagement I can say that I know a bit of it but I don’t claim that I am an international expert. I am just a student of blockchain technology and its legal aspects. That is how I ventured into this new area.

Q:  Thank you so now we’re talking about going to talk a little bit about the government you know so in your view are the Indian government and the private sector especially entrepreneurs applying blockchain technology to help the nation leapfrog in terms of economic development?

A: The government of India is still as I said it’s unclear and there are two diverse opinions about whether to validate crypto currencies or not. The Reserve Bank of India, India’s central bank, is of the view that we don’t need cryptocurrencies but the Supreme Court of India, which is the apex judicial body, in 2020 did away with the circular issued by the Reserve Bank of India and interestingly the judge who did it was one of the chief guests in our conference in 2018 and he has mentioned that he learned a lot about crypto currencies by attending that conference.

Currently, there are many crypto exchanges in India such as CoinDCX, Zebpay and WazirX which are working with international exchanges but unfortunately there are also a lot of scams in cryptocurrencies.

The government initially introduced a bill to propose a ban on cryptocurrencies and impose ten years imprisonment for those who are engaged in crypto currencies but the government has withdrawn that bill due mainly to public pressure.

Let me be very frank the government of India is unclear and in doubt about whether to allow cryptocurrency or not.

That is a current situation but for blockchain applications the major banking companies like the State Bank of India, even The Reserve Bank of India and other private banks are using blockchain technology. They use it, for instance, to grant loans. If you deposit some documents, they are put on blockchain and are available to every node of the blockchain.

They use the blockchain technology to share and exchange documents which cannot be tampered with so the person who is taking loan cannot manipulate the documents and take loans from different organizations at the same time. That is one major application in the banking sector.

And in the agriculture sector blockchain is used along with the use of artificial intelligence because blockchain and interoperability of the other technology now are using it for predictions of the crops and how to get better yields by providing and collecting more information and sharing them with the stakeholders.

I am associated with two three important startups one of which is working for especially in the medical field (there is www.aslimedicine.com).

Duplicate medicines are a big challenge in the pharma sector. So now by using blockchain technology one can track medicine from production till it reaches the customer and if there’s been any tampering it can be it can be detected through the record on blockchain.  

As I have already mentioned the private sector is also using it in Bangalore in Bombay, Delhi and Hyderabad and the government is also been encouraging.

Once we are clear about the cryptocurrencies, once we roll out our Central Bank Digital Currency which is the version of the official currency (Rupee), I think blockchain adoption would further increase.

Q: Thank you so the last question is – is the government and the private sector you said they’re doing working very hard are they doing enough to apply blockchain technology.  Indian economy is largely rural and economically disadvantaged. How can blockchain help them come out of poverty into middle class?

A: Yes, that is a very relevant question my answer is partly yes partly no. Partly yes in the sense that the government of India is working with UNESCO which is taking a great lead in sharing the charity donations contributions to the last person in the society.

We are collaborating with the UNESCO or even we also our entities also tried to connect with the UNESCO India office that how we can reach to the rural people.  So, the Indian government is doing that but as of now as I said the major focus of the private sector and also the government is on the urban population because urban population has better understanding of technology; urban population can apply the use of technology in better ways than rural population because they have better connectivity.

We are going into Web3 world so in our rural areas the connectivity is not that effective which is also a hindrance and a roadblock.

The Government of India is now rolling out 5G spectrum. So through that the government of India and the private sector is trying to reach to the last person in the society but I think we have a long way to go and this is what I feel and what I have seen.

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