Tamper-proof degree certificates to be India government’s first blockchain project

Anand Murali February 6, 2018 5 min

The Indian central government is embarking on its first implementation of a blockchain-based solution in governance with digital certification of education degrees, which will be issued using the distributed computing technology starting with batches graduating in 2019.

The trials with what will be the first implementation of IndiaChain, as the blockchain solution is being called, is going to be done with Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and colleges under the Delhi University. The trials are being done under the aegis of Niti Aayog, the government’s policy think tank, according to a source with knowledge of the development.

“The pilot trials will begin soon and once that is successfully completed, the full-scale implementation will start. The plan is to start issuing digital certificates on the blockchain (IndiaChain) from the 2019 batch onwards,” the source said.

Land titles could be up next on IndiaChain. “Even though land titles on the blockchain was another implementation being talked about, the process will take much longer as a lot of the states are yet to digitise their land records. Education has already been tested and is comparatively less complex to implement,” the source said.

India has the world’s largest student population of some 315 million. Graduates top five million every year. Photo : Biswarup Ganguly , Wikimedia commons

The Indian government is bullish about what blockchain technology can potentially deliver in governance. During his Budget 2018-19 presentation, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced the government’s plan to clamp down cryptocurrencies but support blockchain adoption for developing solutions. “The Government will explore use of blockchain technology pro-actively for ushering in digital economy,” the minister said.

Soon after the budget speech, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant had tweeted about the think tank’s plan to start implementing governance projects on the national blockchain, which according to reports will be IndiaChain.

Last October, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched its pilot program with 111 graduates being given their diploma as digital certificates developed by MIT and Learning Machine on the blockchain that can be secured and verified externally using an app.

FactorDaily reached out to Avik Sarkar, an officer on special duty in the office of the Niti Aayog vice chairman, for comment. He directed us to Anna Roy, an adviser with the think tank, who we have not heard from yet. Emails sent to the offices of top functionaries at IIT-Bombay and Delhi University late on Monday were also not responded to. This story will be updated when we hear from them.

Read: IndiaChain: Niti Aayog starts on IndiaStack-linked, large-scale Blockchain projects

At its simplest, blockchain is a decentralised distributed digital ledger collectively maintained by a network of computers, called nodes. Think of it as a large record book shared among many people. No data can be modified by one person without everyone else who maintains the records agreeing to the change — this makes it secure. Also, the record book is not stored in one place but instead is distributed among the bookkeepers ensuring that there is no single point – as in the case of a centralised database – using which records can be tampered with.

Nixing education fraud?

Fake certificates are a big problem in India, which graduates over five million every year. Just a week back, the Delhi police arrested three men, including a Delhi University graduate, who were allegedly involved in running a pan-India fake degree racket.

Getting fake educational certificates in India is not that difficult – a paper certificate that looks exactly like the original can come for as less as Rs 2,000 – and the University Grants Commission (UGC) frequently releases lists of universities blacklisted for issuing them.

So rampant is the problem that companies hiring freshers by the thousands, typically software service or back office service providers, have to spend crores of rupees to verify the certificates and transcripts of applicants. A digital certificate based on blockchain technology could address this problem.

In the case of digital certificates issued on a blockchain, verification can be done via an app and authentication/verification can be instantaneous once the certificate holder approves of the access. Another advantage is that records cannot be tampered as changes to individual blocks can be made only with the approval of all parties processing the block.

Processflow of digital certificates on the blockchain

Another use case for blockchain-based certificates is for employment outside India. Graduates need to get their certificates attested by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to ensure their authenticity before applying for jobs in several countries and this is a time-consuming process.

Chiranjit Banerjee, whose company PeoplePlus Consulting does background verification as part of making hires for companies, says that there are two problems at play: degrees from fake universities and fake degrees from real universities. The latter, he adds, is the bigger problem. Others say the problem is rare with IITs, IIMs and top universities and colleges.

“The lower you go in the value chain of institutions, the more difficult it becomes to do verification,” says Banerjee, managing partner, PeoplePlus. “The better institutions can respond within 72 hours and in the worst case there won’t be any response at all unless you meet someone from there in person.”

Hirers spend anything between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 each applicant in doing an educational background check, he says. Even if the cost works at the lower end in the case of companies that hire in large numbers, a software services provider or a bank hiring, say, 10,000 people would easily spend Rs 50 lakh a year just under this head.

What is IndiaChain?

The government’s planned governance projects on the blockchain, collectively called IndiaChain, is slated to be the country’s largest blockchain network that intends to reduce frauds, speed up enforcement of contracts, increase transparency of transactions, and boost the agriculture economy of the country, multiple sources have told FactorDaily in its earlier reports.

IndiaChain will be linked to IndiaStack, other government digital identification databases, and the government’s digital locker project. IndiaStack, a set of code developed around India’s unique identity project Aadhaar, helps developers build products and services riding on the country’s digital infrastructure.

Some of the other proposed blockchain-based governance projects include land title, health records, benefit distribution and digital identity.

Some states in India including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka are looking at implementing governance projects on the blockchain at the state level with applications that include land title, power distribution, health records, insurance, among others.


Visuals by Rajesh Subramanian

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