In blockchain voting, leave out the general election
Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.
This editorial is about the Election Commission of India who is for a while been toying with the idea of further digitising the electoral infrastructure of the country.
- The Election Commission had held an online conference in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (“TNeGA”) and IIT Madras, through which they explored the possibility of using blockchain technology for the purpose of enabling remote elections.
- While this exploration is still only in the nascent stages, there are several concerns that must be considered at the offset with utmost caution.
Rise of Blockchain:
What is blockchain technology?
- A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information which is replicated across various nodes on a “peer-to-peer” network for the purpose of ensuring integrity and verifiability of data stored on the ledger.
- Blockchain ledgers have traditionally been used as supporting structures for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Application of Blockchain technology:
- The use of Blockchain technology in non-cryptocurrency applications has seen a steady rise, with some solutions allowing individuals and companies to draft legally-binding “smart contracts,”enabling detailed monitoring of supply chain networks, and several projects focused on enabling remote voting and elections.
- The Election Commission is exploring the possibility of using blockchain technology for the purpose of enabling remote voting in elections.
Issues & Concerns
- Electors would still have to physically reach a designated venue in order to cast their vote.
- Systems would use “white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines”, and that the system would make use of the biometric attributes of electors.
- Digitisation and interconnectivity introduce additional points of failure external to the processes which exist in the present day.
- The system envisioned by the Election Commission is only slightly more acceptable than a fully remote, app-based voting system (which face a litany of issues of their own, and which have so far only been deployed in a few low-level elections in the West).
- The systems used in such low-stakes elections have suffered several blunders too, some of which could have been catastrophic if they had gone undetected.
- Blockchain solutions rely heavily on the proper implementation of cryptographic protocols.
- If any shortcomings exist in an implementation, it might stand to potentially unmask the identity and voting preferences of electors, or allow an individual to cast a vote as someone else.
- An attacker may be able to clone the biometric attributes required for authenticating as another individual and cast a vote on their behalf.
- Physical implants or software backdoors placed on an individual system could allow attackers to collect and deduce voting choices of individuals.
- Digitised systems may also stand to exclude and disenfranchise certain individuals due to flaws in interdependent platforms, flaws in system design, as well as general failures caused by external factors.
- Political engagement could be improved by introducing and improving upon other methods, such as postal ballots or proxy voting.
- Creation of a ‘One Nation, One Voter ID’ system, though it is unclear whether such a radical (and costly) exercise would be required at all for the mere purpose of allowing individuals to vote out of their home State.
- If the only problem that is to be solved is the one of ballot portability, then technological solutions which involve setting up entirely new, untested voting infrastructure may not be the answer.
India & Techno-solutionism-A way forward
- India can characteristically be described as a country obsessed with techno-solutionism meaning If a solution uses technology, the general consensus is that it must work.
- It is important to lay stress on the point that further digitisation, in itself, does not make processes more robust.
- Any solution to electoral problems must be software independent and fault tolerable where failure or tampering of the mechanism would not affect the overall process.
- Use of such a system could perhaps be justified for lower level elections, and not for something as significant and politically binding as the general election.
The twisted trajectory of Bt cotton
Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management
Despite finding huge favour in India, the GM crop has only brought modest benefits
Background: History of cotton in India
- Cotton has been woven and used in India for thousands of years.
- Cotton fabric from around 3,000 BCE has been excavated from the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, and archaeological findings in Mehrgarh, Pakistan, show that cotton was used in the subcontinent as far back as 5,000 BCE.
- Indian cotton fabrics dominated the world trade during the succeeding millennia and were exported to many places, including Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Assyria and parts of Asia.
- Much of the cotton cultivated until the 20th century was of the indigenous ‘desi’ variety, Gossypium arboreum.
- From the 1990s, hybrid varieties of G. hirsutum were promoted.
- These hybrids cannot resist a variety of local pests and require more fertilizers and pesticides.
Issues faced by cotton farmers
- Cotton suffers from plenty of infestation from moth pests (Lepidopteran) such as the Pink Bollworm (PBW) and sap-sucking (Hemipteran) pests such as aphids and mealy bugs.
- With increasing pressure to buy hybrid seeds, the indigenous varieties have lost out over the years
- The increasing use of synthetic pyrethroids (group of man-made pesticides) to control pests and the rising acreage under the American long-duration cotton led to the emergence of resistant pests.
- Resistant Pink and even American Bollworm (ABW), a minor pest in the past, began increasing, leading to a growing use of a variety of pesticides.
- Rising debts and reducing yields, coupled with increasing insect resistance, worsened the plight of cotton farmers.
- Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002.
- Genetically modified (GM) cotton, the plant containing the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Benefits of Bt Cotton:
- the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) produced in each Bt plant cell, ought to protect the plant from bollworm, thereby increasing yields and reducing insecticide spraying on the cotton plant.
- According to the Ministry of Agriculture, from 2005, adoption of Bt cotton rose to 81% in 2007, and up to 93% in 2011.
- Many short-duration studies examining Bt cotton, in the early years, pronounced that Bt was a panacea for dwindling yields and pesticide expenses.
scientific journal Nature Plants analysis
- Earlier studies had attributed to Bt the tripling of cotton yield between 2002-2014 in India.
- Yield differences between farmers who were the early adopters of Bt cotton and those who were not suffered from selection bias.
- Controlling for such bias showed (in 2012) that the contribution of Bt cotton to yield increase was only about 4% each year; still, since yields vary annually by over 10%, the benefits claimed were dubious.
Discrepancies between yield and the deployment of Bt cotton.
- The Bt acreage was only 3.4% of the total cotton area in 2003, not sufficient to credit it for the 61% increase in yield in 2003-2004.
- With only 15.7% Bt cotton coverage by 2005, yield increases were over 90% over 2002 levels.
- While Bt cotton adoption corresponded to a drop in spraying for bollworms, the study states, “countrywide yields stagnated after 2007 even as more farmers began to grow Bt.
- By 2018, yields were lower than in the years of rapid Bt adoption.
Reason for rise in yield
- The rise in cotton yields can be explained by improvements in irrigation, for instance in Gujarat.
- A dramatic growth across the country in the use of fertilizers.
- Gross fertilizer uses for cotton more than doubled from 2007-2013; the average rose from 98 kg/ha in 2003 to 224 kg/ha in 2013.
- A technology that works in the lab may fail in fields since real-world success hinges on multiple factors, such as different kinds of pests and local soil and irrigation conditions.
- The benefits of Bt cotton have been modest and short-lived.
- Changes to the agricultural systems correlate better with positive yields, and countrywide yields have not improved in thirteen years.
- India’s global rank for cotton production is 36 despite heavy fertilizer use, irrigation, chemicals and Bt cotton usage.
- The cost of ignoring ‘desi’ varieties for decades has been high for India.
- Research suggests that with pure-line cotton varieties, high density planting, and short season plants, cotton yields in India can be good and stand a better chance at withstanding the vagaries of climate change.
- It is time to pay attention to science and acknowledge that Bt cotton has failed in India, and not enter into further misadventures with other Bt crops such as brinjal or herbicide resistance.
Rethinking the Defence doctrine.
Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.
Over four months ago, the Chinese army entered territory that India has long considered its own, and never left. the multiple incursions have changed the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India’s approach: Problems & criticism:
- Failure of the warningintelligence system: Either Indian intelligence services did not collect suﬃcient data of Chinese intentions and early moves, or they did not interpret it correctly, or their policy and military customers failed to take the warning seriously.
- Army’s concepts for defending the country’s borders: It is, as the current crisis shows, simply not postured or prepared for the type of security threat China presents.
- The Army’s prevailing doctrine is designed to deter and defend against major conventional invasions.
- The Chinese army’s initial forays in April and May did not look like a gunsblazing invasion. It crossed the LAC in several places nearly simultaneously, and in larger numbers than usual.
- Indian forces would reinforce their positions but hold back. Indian forces were under strict instructions from New Delhi that any aggressive response must be avoided as it would inﬂame the situation.
- It is now clear that India’s national security leadership and the Army
- China has no interest in launching a major conventional invasion, but this is not just a typical probe either. Rather, its quick land grab looks increasingly permanent, like an attempt to change the border without triggering war.
- This fait accompli leaves India with two awful choices: either start a war by launching its own reprisal attack, or do nothing and accept a new status quo.
Speed is of the essence: Solution
- Addressing this type of security threat requires preventing, not reversing, such fait accompli land grabs.
- a fundamental shift in the Army’s doctrinal thinking, from strategies revolving around punishing the adversary, to strategies that prevent its adventurism in the ﬁrst place is needed.
- A greater investment in persistent widearea surveillance to detect and track adversary moves, devolved command authority to respond to enemy aggression, and rehearsed procedures for an immediate local response without higher commanders’ approval.
- In countering China’s ‘grey zone’ tactics of quick land grabs, speed is of the essence.
- In peacetime, local commanders must have the authority and gumption to take anticipatory action and go on the oﬀensive or ﬁll forward defensive positions.
- Taking strident oﬀensive actions now, amidst a heavily militarised crisis, may be hazardous because it carries new risks of unintended escalation.
- The challenge for India is to learn the right lessons and be alert to similar tactics in other regions, like the Indian Ocean. It must not rely on doctrines forged in wars half a century ago.