PROGRESS OR BLOCKADE: DIGITAL AGRICULTURE AND LAW

INTRODUCTION

Technological innovation has progressed at a rapid speed. This has resulted in examples starting from sociological to economic benefits. But at the same time if there’s a cut-off in the technological system then the gap is created between the potential and the subsequent opportunity created. Digital Agriculture refers to the practices of agriculture using an electronic system of information in order to digitally collect the economy as well as the data. This digitization demands a new revolution called the Digital Agricultural Revolution.[1] The precision of technology, agriculture and law is needed. If we take the example of the Indian Agricultural Sector then it has a huge market and its subsequent industry all embedded in it. These all demand a regulatory change and take the current scenario into account a technological change.[2]

This digital revolution demands the required production. This production creates a marketplace. When this same thing has collaborated with the law then it creates a framework governed by law and policy. The technical aspects are in itself a complex set.  This digitization not only targets the normal functioning of the farmers or their farming life but also their capital life. Farming or currently the digitized farming demands for investment in the form of capital. When the topic comes to technology and law then it brings the mechanical innovations and these things bring on the legal issues. These laws are backed by the government that is they are made and subsequently implemented by the government for private implications.

MAIN CONTEXT

Certainly, now a new world has popped up where laws are contextualized by the incentive of innovation. Centre or the government has time and again made this very thing realize us through its various schemes. But the path is not the same as it seems to be. There were various concerns raised in the agricultural sector with respect to the farmers where there were complaints of exploitation of consent as data protection was compromised.[3] For example, land records are of prime importance to the farmers and through digitization, this very record was also digitally linked. The Centre has always come up with its plan and for the farmers, it brought the “Indian Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture’’ or IDEA. Under this initiative, a task force was created to include farmers under the umbrella and accordingly represent them. But the government here couldn’t back its statement with laws as in future legal issues may start coming up. The farmers were concerned primarily because their digital infrastructure would not be maintained by the governmental databases rather would be controlled by the private holders like Jio, Airtel etc.

Land records of the farmers have no clear segregation be it on ownership or the land area. The digitization further will flaw this system as there would be confusion whether who are the actual possessors or if agriculture specific then who are the actual cultivators.  All this digitization of land is thought without a proper system of law at hand. At the same time, Data Protection Law was also not in place.

This digitization demands data privacy. On the societal level, many questions come up when it comes to data collection and its subsequent privacy like where our personal data will go, where it will be used, will get accessed by any third-party etc. The Personal Data Protection Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2019 but hasn’t been made an Act till now. Other than that it doesn’t contain any information about agricultural data. If there’s a lack of clarity then how can the farms give the ownership of personal data to someone else?[4] Transparency is in itself at stake. Through this bill, a Data Protection Law is expected to provide a legal stance and basically provides answers to the problems concerning our “Fundamental Right to Privacy.”[5] If there’s no appropriate law at hand then the rights and obligations of a person can’t be decided upon. At the same time, if there’s a compromise in their privacy and farmers move to the court then the court may itself take a contrasting position and state the underlying facet of Right to Privacy as Right to be Forgotten.[6] Uniformity will be absent. Data Protection law will ensure that the digitization of agriculture made for the farmers is used for a lawful purpose and data fiduciary will be maintained. This modern digitized world demands this Data Protection Law which is regarded as one of the fastest areas to implement legal regulations.

There are digital cards or credit cards per se which are being provided to the farmers at a time where Data Protection Law isn’t guaranteeing whether their money will remain safe or not. The farmers are being expected to invest through those cards but without any prior knowledge and it’s not sure whether it will be backed by the government or not. This same responsibility is taken by private contractors. For example, the Microsoft team had run a model or trial-run program called ‘AgriStack’ which will develop an interface for the farmers that will make them know the technique of smart agriculture. This will provide them with a Unique Identification Number and they can accordingly use their personal data for the production. This program will provide a unified platform that will combine the digitization of personal data, agriculture and the legal framework. But the Data Protection Law does not specifically tell about this.

The E-Rupi initiative was launched by the Government of India’s National Payment Corporation Of India(NPCI) which is a kind of a payment platform by digital means and through this, you don’t have to use any credit or debit cards in order to accept or provide payment. The beneficiaries will be subsequently benefited without any physical interface.[7] This initiative was decided to add on to the agricultural practices using a proper legal framework, but it’s still pending because a proper Data Protection Law is missing and with that, a Digital Protection Framework is also missing.  

The other side of the debate also talks about progress. The digitization of agriculture through its records will help the farmers to look at the table and subsequently bring an analysis of the crops they sew and what all were their status is and this step can be done with the current legislation of the government. The satellite imagery will help to keep a check on the whole agricultural system. This very look of agriculture doesn’t need the support of the private sector. This system through its automatic process will bring the production and the subsequent agricultural development.

The best part is it doesn’t need an AI technology or complex set of technology rather all that is needed is a simple network or software to perform all these functions. And this makes the farmers access and accept the said system in the best possible way.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS

There are many ways in order to address this issue. There could be a consultation session where the tech partners and the law officers can come together and discuss the policy and framework and how could technology and law be used in a way to give the best possible results to agriculture. Digital Rights Organizations should be involved in order to execute the concerns. If the rights of the user are strengthened then the privacy rights of the people will not have tampered.

The Rapidness of technology is difficult to control but isn’t impossible. When the same came to agriculture, then a gap was noticed. The collaboration between technology, agriculture and law was needed. This is possible by a framework governed by proper policy reforms. This new world of innovation has set a very difficult path. Land Records is one prime example. Whatever solution may be, it needs to be backed by the government, for example, the IDEA initiative. But it had a root problem of privacy.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 is still not an Act. Transparency is compromised and so do people’s fundamental ‘Right to Privacy’. As there’s no legislation so people can’t move to court with a strong case at hand. A proper law should be there to maintain Data Fiduciary. The digital cards issue is addressed but can’t be trusted with a proper law backed by the government. The same problem is also with the private contractors who lag a legal framework. e-Rupi though gained recognition but without law couldn’t address issues of agriculture. But the progress can’t be ignored. The agricultural community can refer to the land records with simple technology and current legislation at hand without any private investors.  

Author(s) Name: Sruti Patra (National Law University, Odisha)

References:

[1] Nikola M Trendov, Samuel Varas and Meng Zeng, ‘Digital Technologies in Agriculture and Rural Areas’ (2019) <https://www.fao.org/3/ca4887en/ca4887en.pdf> accessed 4 December 2021

[2] Shankhyaneel Sarkar, ‘New farm laws, digital transformation make India’s agri sector ‘ripe for disruption’ Hindustan Times (New Delhi, 30 June 2021)

[3] ‘Centre’s digital agri proposal raise concerns of farmer exploitation’ The Hindu (New Delhi, 1 July 2021)UPDATED: JUNE 30, 2021 22:26 IST

[4] Leanne Wiseman, ‘Farmers and their data: An examination of farmers’ reluctance to shatre their data through the lens of the laws impacting smart farming’ (2019) 90 NIAS- Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences < https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1573521418302616> accessed 4 December 2021

[5] Siddharth Sonkar, ‘Privacy Delayed is Privacy Denied’ The Wire (New Delhi, 24 May 2021)

[6] ibid 5

[7] Pranav Mukul, ‘e-Rupi: A voucher system ahead of digital currency’ The Indian Express (New Delhi, 1 August 2021)

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