Social Sanchar On How Blockchain can make the Digital Marketplace Safer
In a deviation from the usual pattern of Social Sanchars, V Citizens Action Network, in collaboration with the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCC&I), organised a Panel Discussion on ‘How Blockchain Can Make the Digital Marketplace Safer’.
The session, which took place on Thursday 22nd March 2018, at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club in Colaba, also came on the heels of World Consumer Rights Day, which is celebrated every year on 15th March. Every year, Consumer International, a worldwide consumer rights organisation, announces a theme, the one for this year being ‘Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer’ a theme highly relevant to the topic for the session.
The programme began with Mrs. Indrani Malkani, Managing Trustee of VCAN, giving a brief background on the Social Sanchar.
A welcome address by Mr. Deb Mukherjee, Vice President BCC&I, followed, where he thanked VCAN for giving the BCC&I the opportunity to partner with them. He also recalled their previous partnership for a Panel Discussion on IT Accessibility in 2015.
Mrs Malkani then introduced the Panellists, and thanked all the partners who helped organise the event, BCC&I, Protiviti, VCAN’s founding partner – Eureka Forbes, the venue partner – Royal Bombay Yacht Club, video technology partner -April Broadcast Pvt. Ltd., college partner – Jai Hind College, and technology partner – Teknowlegion.
Mr Arnab Basu, the Chairperson Information & Technology, BCC&I, then addressed the audience via a video call. He spoke on the importance of blockchain and the scope of its various applications in almost every field, from Banking, E-Commerce, Healthcare, and even Land Records, to make the digital market place safer and more secure.
This was followed by Mr V. Ranganathan, Trustee VCAN, and former Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, initiating the Panel Discussion.
The first speaker was Mr Subrata Bagchi, Sr. Managing Director of Protiviti India Member Pvt. Ltd. He began by giving a historical perspective on global trade, before explaining exactly what blockchain was, how blockchain technology worked, and how two completely unrelated parties can trade safely, transparently, and reliably, through the use of blockchain.
This was followed with a few words by Mr S. V. R. Srinivas IAS, Principal Secretary Information & Technology, Govt of Maharashtra. Mr Srinivas spoke about the evolution of blockchain and announced that the State had recently come out with a Fintech Policy, aimed at making Mumbai a Fintech hub. He also explained how the Government was integrating the applications of Blockchain in the State’s ongoing e-Governance initiatives. He observed that there was a great scope in the field of cyber security. He noted the difference between bitcoin not being legal tender, but at the same time not being illegal per se.
Mr Bagchi put in a small observation building on the point about bitcoin and crypto currency, before Mr Srinivas had to leave for an important meeting.
The next speaker was Mr Vikas Mittersain, Founder India Business Group (IBG). From the point of an entrepreneur, he spoke about the speculation on cryptocurrencies, but argued that while most conversations about blockchain revolved around bitcoin, there were myriad opportunities of blockchain, from healthcare, to recordkeeping, to e-Governance, that deserved attention.
The next speaker was Mr Prashant Mali, Advocate, India’s International Cyber Lawyer.
Mr Mali spoke on the legal aspects and implications of blockchain. He touched on smart-contracts, and cryptocurrencies, pointing out global trends in the field. He noted that there were few government regulations in place to deal with it, which was both good and bad. He pointed out that while the concept of blockchain was safe secure and transparent, there still existed many safety and security related issues to be considered, particularly in crypto currencies. He cited examples of some of the cases he had himself come across and mentioned some areas of cyber security where the government could pay particular attention.
He was followed by Mr Ratan Kesh, Sr. President & Chief Experience Officer, YES Bank. Keeping in mind that Mr. Kesh hailed from the banking sector, Mr. Kesh’s talk was designed to give a banking perspective on blockchain. He addressed the current craze of bitcoin or crypto currency and explained the threats and opportunities from it. He concluded by explaining the scope of crypto currency in our economy.
At this stage, Mrs. Malkani took over and thanked the esteemed guests in the audience. She gave special thanks to Mr Ajit Kumar Jain, State Chief Information Commissioner, Mr. Mahesh Pathak, Principal Secretary, Food & Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection and Dr Ashok Wadia, Principal of Jai Hind College.
The final speaker for the day was Mr Brijesh Singh, Spl. IPG Maharashtra Cyber, Secretary & DG IPR Govt of Maharashtra. Mr Singh began by explaining in simple terms what blockchain entailed. He distinguished blockchain from crypto-currencies and spoke about the legal status of such currencies in India, and how they were currently viewed as a commodity.
He spoke about how bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Monero, and Ethereum were spawning new issues like malware which hijacked mobiles and computers to mine cryptocurrency.
He also gave some useful tips to the audience on basic cyber-security. He also cautioned the audience that despite the stereotypical depiction of the Police in the movies, the real Police are actually very well aware of cybercrime and are constantly updating themselves and keeping abreast of the latest technologies and trends in the field. He told the audience that every district in Maharashtra had a well equipped Cyber Police Station.
The floor was then opened to the audience, both those online, and those in the venue for questions.
To a question on how far behind India was, compared to advanced countries, the Panellists felt that we are not very far from the west. However, they also mentioned that India was lagging behind in terms of blockchain platforms. Mr Kesh mentioned that the entire ecosystem would need to be developed as a whole to fully realise the potential.
In response to a question on the trust deficit with the government, Mr Singh assured the audience that Aadhaar and other data were safe. He outlined some of the key safety measures that have been put in place.
When asked about the tax implications and regulations on Cryptocurrency trading, Mr Mali mentioned that the law was ambiguous as to how cryptocurrency would be treated, and that this has given rise to a situation where the status is in limbo.
One of the audience members shared with the Panel that he had developed a Cryptocurrency himself and spoke about his own experience with his company based abroad.
To a question about bitcoin transactions, Mr Mali mentioned that the easiest way to bring it into the open, would be to tax it and allow people to declare their cryptocurrency transactions.
In response to questions on how bitcoin would change the way we interact with the government, Mr Singh mentioned that they were integrating certain blockchain applications n phases, particularly in recordkeeping, while Mr Mittersain expressed scepticism about whether bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies would last.
Mr Ajit Kumar Jain, Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra, mentioned that while the government had a long way to go, positive steps were being taken. Mr Ranganathan mentioned that this was particularly true in terms of the education sector, with respect to validation of Degrees and Marksheets.
When asked about the dealing in cryptocurrency through the Banking system, Mr Kesh clarified that credit cards were not being allowed to deal in cryptocurrency as most Banks were not permitting it.
Mr. Shankar Jadhav of the Bombay Stock Exchange compared the adoption of blockchain to the adoption of dematerialisation of Shares earlier. He also mentioned the application of blockchain in verification of credentials, to which Mr Mali replied that there is a National Education Registry being developed by the HRD Ministry and this would be a reality in the near future.
Another point that came out during the interaction was the issue of the sovereign power of a nation over its own currency being eclipsed by a decentralised currency like bitcoin.
In response to a query about the technical requirements to run blockchain considering bandwidth issues in Maharashtra, Mr Singh mentioned that the technology was still experimental but looked very promising.
When asked about authentication of transactions, and the sustainability of blockchain, Mr Bagchi mentioned that it could be both stable and sustainable depending on the specifics of the application.
The session then concluded with the presentation of mementoes to the Panellists and guests, following which Mrs Malkani invited the audience at the venue to continue the discussions one on one over tea and refreshments provided by the Royal Bombay Yacht Club.
To view the photos of the event click here.
To view the video of the event click here.
To view the press coverage click here