The India stack that Bill Gates and Sundar Pichai so love is set to get much bigger – thanks to the Indian government’s new blockchain strategy
By SANCHITA DASH
FEB 6, 2021, 09:49 IST
BI India/Wikimedia Commons
The Indian government has drafted a National Strategy on Blockchain.
This could be the next big step in the India Stack – an ambitious technology project Indian government embarked upon over 10 years ago.
If the implementation of UPI was revolutionary, the scale of changes that the addition of blockchain infrastructure can facilitate will be way, way bigger.
Over 10 years ago, the Indian government opened up its database for private players to build products upon it. The combination of Aadhaar — the world’s largest identity database — along with the government’s payments infrastructure, riding on the proliferation of mobile phones, allowed millions of Indians to leapfrog into the digital payments era.
The sheer scale of the ambition and its success in bringing financial inclusion got the Indian government laurels from some of the biggest icons of modern technology, including Bill Gates, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai. And now, India is set to add blockchain infrastructure to that India Stack and the benefits could be way, way bigger than what the unified payments interface (UPI) achieved.
According to the draft National Strategy on Blockchain, a government-led blockchain infrastructure can become the hub for private developers to build applications.
If the India Stack allowed developers to build payments products, access to blockchain infrastructure can revolutionise products and services across healthcare, cyber security, governance, media, logistics & hospitality, education, legal, energy, smart cities and so on.
“Blockchain being a single source of truth can be used for authentication and verification of all the transactions and data, produced by various government departments,” said the draft. The government is currently accepting public opinions on the draft until February 16 through the MyGov platform.
Now, what can this technology be used for? The latest draft from The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has laid out some of its targets.
Setting up a national framework for blockchain.
Architecture options for blockchain including private participation.
Applications of national interest for blockchain which includes e-voting, land records, pharmaceutical supply, power distribution, identity management among others.
Build centres of excellence of blockchain technology.
The success of the India Stack is fuelling excitement around the ‘India ledger’
By opening up its database securely for private developers, India had done what no other country had.
Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet, which owns the internet giant Google, in an interview in 2017 had said that UPI and India Stack conversations get him excited. Pichai, who had then said we will see products being built out of India for a global stage, has since then gone on to commit $10 billion into the country’s technology ecosystem.
Talking about India Stack, Microsoft founder Bill Gates had said that India is at the “cusp of leapfrogging” whereas his successor Nadella said ,”'Digital India' framework has made India 'stand out' from the rest of the world”.
One of the architects of India Stack Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys, had called it the “single most important innovation India needs”.
Opening up a blockchain infrastructure for similar innovations may lead to bigger advancements in technology than UPI, which is hailed as India’s most successful digital project. “We can create our own massive blockchain ledger, say India Ledger, where all researchers and experts come together. The third is that we need to create our own journey with blockchain. Now, is the time to really work on these thoughts,” said Prasanna Lohar, head of digital innovations at DCB Bank and a blockchain expert who has been privy to the discussions around blockchain with the government.
Along with the blockchain strategy, India is toying with the idea of banning private cryptocurrency and instead bringing out its own “digital rupee”.
“Niti Aayog, India's think tank has been working on IndiaChain, India's own ambitious project to develop a nationwide blockchain network, which has revolutionized India’s position as one of the emerging technology players. A few months ago, a blockchain project named Vajra designed by the National Payments Corporation of India for various payment companies providing secured transactions on their online platforms or mobile applications, shows the government is taking proactive initiative to support blockchain,” said Neeraj Khandelwal, co-founder of cryptocurrency and bitcoin startup CoinDCX.
Unified Payments Interface or UPI has registered 2.29 billion transactions worth Rs 4,25,062 crore in February, according to data released by the National Payments Corporation of India.
In terms of average transaction value, UPI has been able to maintain its previous record even in 28 days of February. In January, it had recorded 2.3 billion transactions worth Rs 4,31,181 crore or Rs 4.31 trillion.
While NPCI has not released the transactions break-up figures for February, digital payments major PhonePe had a lead over Google Pay in terms of UPI transactions volume and value by a decent margin in January. The Sameer Nigam-led firm had recorded 968.72 million transactions worth Rs 1,91,973.77 crore in January whereas Google Pay had registered 853.53 million transactions amounting to Rs 1,77,791.47 crore during the month.
Paytm, which has shifted its focus to its ecosystem of combined wallet and payments bank, recorded 281.18 million transactions worth Rs 33,909.50 crore in January. The Noida-based company said in a statement that it recorded 1.2 billion transactions in February across its financial services such as wallet, UPI, cards and net-banking.
Paytm also said that it has the highest market share in offline merchant payments with 15% M-o-M growth and that its business app has over 17 million merchants on the platform and over 8.5 million partners hold a bank account with Paytm Payments Bank.
In terms of merchants payments, Paytm closely competes with PhonePe.
Responding to Entrackr’s queries a PhonePe spokesperson said that the company had crossed a billion transactions in December itself. “Our February numbers are also over a billion with approximately 970 million UPI transactions, and wallet, credit and debit card contributing to the rest of the numbers. We have approximately 280 million registered users and over 110 million monthly active users,” the statement said.
According to the company, its merchant acceptance number across India is 17.5 million.
It’s worth noting that SBI, which processes the largest volume of transactions via UPI among all banks, had improved its performance in terms of technical decline rate in January. The public sector bank had registered only a 1.44% technical decline rate in January as compared to 8.96% in the previous month.
The UPI transaction failure rate for the month of February is yet to be published by NPCI.