Cryptocurrency regulation

Cryptocurrency Regulations in India

Author: Coinpedia

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Crypto Journalist and Editor of guest articles in CoinPedia. I am also handling Outreach & Partnerships Manager. Contact me: [email protected]

    Cryptocurrency entered India in 2013 and raised a lot of heat among people from all social classes who invested and traded with great enthusiasm. The authority at that time was not very particular about bringing any regulations rather issued warnings. Let us explore the relationship between India and cryptocurrency in this article.

    So, what’s happening in the Indian cryptocurrency regulations? Below is the timeline of a series of events and announcements taken towards the crypto industry. Let us find out more!!

    Crypto Regulation in India 2022

    26-03-2022: Indian Finance Secretary, T.V Somanathan says that In India crypto currency Is called crypto assets, it is not illegal to buy or sell in India. Crypto assets are now taken under a tax framework from the government and are treated as winning from horse races or from other speculative transactions.

    20-03-2022: The government is working on the classification of cryptocurrency as goods or services under the GST law so that tax can be levied on the entire value of transactions, Revenue secretary Tarun Bajaj has confirmed to Outlook Business in an exclusive interview.

    According to a PTI report, if the GST is imposed on the entire transaction of cryptocurrency then the GST rate can be between 0.1-1%. The report added that GST officers are also of the view that cryptos, by nature, are similar to lottery, casinos, betting, gambling, horse racing, which have 28% of GST on the entire value. Besides, a 3% GST is levied on the entire transaction value in the case of gold. As reported by PTI, the decision is expected to be taken during the 47th GST Council Meeting. The meeting will take place at the end of March or the beginning of April 2022.

    02-02-2022: India will impose a tax of 30% on income from cryptocurrencies and other digital assets, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while presenting the union budget session 2022. Aside from placing earnings from cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in India’s highest tax band, Sitharaman also said losses from their sale could not be offset against other income, delivering another disincentive to trading and investment in digital assets. The tax rule will be effective from April 1st.

    The finance minister also said that the central bank will introduce a digital currency in the next financial year using blockchain and other supporting technology.

    Government’s Stand on Cryptocurrencies

    The Indian government is not so friendly with cryptocurrencies from the start but wants to encourage blockchain-related technologies in various government services. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) wanted to ban the activities related to cryptocurrencies. The decentralized nature of cryptos and the constant fluctuation in the trading volumes had bought the RBI’s radar over them. 

    Cryptocurrencies landed in India and started functioning in 2012 on a small scale and became very familiar among the people within a year. A few businessmen started accepting Bitcoin as payments. For example, a Pizzeria in Mumbai became the first restaurant to accept Bitcoin as payment in 2013.

    What might have made RBI ban cryptocurrency activities in India?

    • The primary reason might be that no individual or agency or organization is responsible for its value. It is pure speculation.
    • There is no control over the crypto transaction or activities as it is decentralized. 
    • There is no third-party involvement like banks to regulate the transactions.
    • Fear of losing the value of Fiat currency and banking system.
    • Protect the interest of people so that they do not lose their money.

    RBI had banned the banks to encourage activities related to cryptocurrencies in 2018, the Supreme court lifted the Cryptocurrency Ban in March 2020. But still, RBI wants the supreme court to rethink the judgment as they still do not have faith in them. 

    Historic Events and Announcements.

    09-02-2021: Finance Minister Sitaraman said on February 9th, 2021 in Rajya Sabha, that all private cryptocurrencies, except any virtual currencies issued by the state, will be prohibited. Mr. Anurag Thakur, Minister of State for Finance also said about the government’s plan of bringing the bill on cryptocurrency. A senior government official told Reuters that cryptocurrencies must be banned and the one using cryptocurrency must be penalized for trading in the country or even just holding any such virtual assets.

    To know more click on the document here.

    29-11- 2021: Steps will be taken to create awareness about the risky area of cryptocurrency through SEBI and RBI. Speaking about the government introducing a bill on cryptocurrency, the Government won’t collect the data on Bitcoin, says Sitaraman on Lok Sabha.

    To know more click on the document here.

    29-1-2021: The government says it will introduce a bill to create a sovereign digital currency and simultaneously ban all private cryptocurrencies. The recently-revived industry realizes it faces a second existential threat. The bill seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India. However, it would allow certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses.

    18-03-2020: The government of India revealed to the lower house, ‘Lok Sabha’ about the inspection carried out by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs on specifically cryptocurrency companies, Zeb It Services Ltd and Unocoin Technologies Ltd.

    05-03- 2020:- After a series of arguments between IMAI and RBI, the Supreme court delivered its verdict in favor of the IMAI uplifting ban imposed by RBI on cryptocurrency. The whole world of crypto hailed the judgment all over the globe.

    29-01-2020:- The Indian Institute for Smart Government (NISG) has published a draft ‘National Strategy on Blockchain’.  The document examines blockchain technology, its impact on society, challenges, the role of government and national strategy principles in addition to SWOT analysis. 

    The document also urges the Reserve Bank of India to issue regulated digital coins which would be decided soon. 

    You can go through the whole document HERE.

    05-12-2019:– The Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, in a press meeting clearly said that the RBI is completely against cryptocurrencies and would ascertain its functionality.

    28-01-2020:- Final arguments from both sides were heard and concluded. The judgment was kept reserved.

    05-08-2019:- The exchanges which are the members of the Internet and Mobile Association of India(IMAI) assembled for the final round of arguments in the Supreme Court. During the course of the argument, RBI admitted that it did not have jurisdiction to speak on the legality of cryptocurrency and the RBI & Payment Settlement Act does not imply Cryptocurrency. But argued that it has the power to take action if found cryptocurrency is a threat to the payment system. Yet the RBI was asked to provide a reply to the representation done by IMAI.

    07-06-2019:- The Indian Government drafted a bill to deal with cryptocurrencies called,” Banning Cryptocurrencies and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2019”.  It prohibited any activities dealing with cryptocurrencies and suggested equivalent punishment excluding the usage of cryptocurrency in experimenting, research or teaching.

    It clearly mentioned to declare and dispose of any cryptocurrency under possession before 90 days from the commencement of the act. A person would be sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment if found guilty in the involvement of cryptocurrency activities and the exchanges would be punished for 5 years of imprisonment. This bill, however, got deferred till now.

    The detailed bill can be accessed HERE.

    25-10-2018:- All four petitions, two petitions for the ban and other two challenging the ban assembled for hearing. The Government of India informed the committee which was set up to research crypto assets. Hence the court adjourned to enable the committee to come up with their recommendations.

    14-10- 2018:- Despite the RBI crackdown, one of the exchanges Unocoin launched a Bitcoin Atm in Bangalore for its customers. The user could deposit and withdraw money using the bitcoins in their wallets. Unfortunately, the cybercrime police seized the ATM only a week after its launch.

    23-07- 2018:-  SEBI sent its comments on the circular on the ban to the Department of Economic affairs. SEBI mentioned its objection to being part of the regulators of crypto assets and tokens.

      In the meantime, exchanges requested the RBI in writing, to lift the ban as they were open to more scrutiny and ready to be regulated.

    January 2019:-At the beginning of the year in January, the Income-tax department started issuing notices to all the investors. Banks suspended the withdrawal and deposit facilities of some exchanges. Some lenders disassociated with them completely.

    17-05-2018:-  Supreme court passed interim order allowing the petitioners to submit a representation to RBI.

    Amid the circular from RBI, one of the popular exchanges Zebpay suspended its operation in India on 04 July 2018.

     05-04-2018:- RBI released a statement that prevented all financial institutions and payment providers to stop dealing with virtual currency and stop services to all entities that deal with virtual currency. And finally, on 6th April 2018, releasing a circular, RBI banned Cryptocurrency in India declaring it an illegal entity which will come into effect from 6th June 2018.

    The exchanges dealt with heavy losses as all the transactions were stopped and there was no bank access. All the people were forced to sell the currency before they lost access. Many exchanges closed down and many users too faced loss.

    The exchanges were disappointed with the blanket ban, the exchanges decided to take this matter to the court filing its first petition on 01 May 2018 challenging the ban.

     The supreme court clubbed up all the petitions against the ban and scheduled 11th May 2018 hearing. 

    05-03-2018:-  Central Board Of Direct Taxes (CBDT) submitted a draft to the Department of Economic Affairs to ban cryptocurrencies. Later on March 19th and 20th, Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of G-20 member countries met for the G-20 summit. Here all acknowledge the fact that crypto-assets have the potential to improve the efficiency of the financial system and economy. But at the same time did raise concerns over consumer & investor protection, market integrity, tax evasion, money laundering, and terrorist financing.

     01-02-2018:- During a speech in parliament, Honorable Finance Minister of India, Late Mr. Arun Jaitely mentioned virtual currencies as illegal tenders and the government does not support them. But mentioned that the government will look at the utilization of blockchain technology. Post to which SBI took the initiative to bring the banks and the tech firms together. Big tech firms IBM, Microsoft, Skylark, KPMG, and 10 commercial banks joined hands.

    Dec 2017:- RBI and Minister of Finance held a joint press meeting and declared Cryptocurrency as ‘Ponzi Schemes’ and they are not currency or coins.

    07-11-2017:- The Reserve Bank of India announced its plan to ban cryptocurrencies as a form of payment across the country but has shown support for the blockchain.

    At a conference held in Mumbai, India on Nov. 6, 2017, RBI executive director, S Ganesh Kumar, has hinted that digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum will not be allowed to be legally used across the country.

    “Our current position on bitcoins is that we will not be using it for any payments and settlements…though the technology underlying cryptocurrencies will not end.”

    08-11-2016:-The major boost for the crypto market led when the Prime Minister of India, declared Rs 500 and Rs 1000 had been demonetized with immediate effect. These denominations were about to 86% of the country’s paper currency. The people with large cash holdings were looking out for more options to exchange the money as the time was limited. Investment in gold was also tracked by the government, and hence the people tried investing in Bitcoin.

    This increased the bitcoin volume by nearly double and the investors summed up nearly 1,30,000. In India, the price of a bitcoin reached $1020 but in the U.S. it remained at $770.

    15-06-2016:- The Financial Action Task Force, set up by RBI in 1994, came up with guidance for a risk-based approach to virtual currency. As mentioned in the guidelines, the possibility of fraud as cryptocurrency transactions can be carried out for anonymous accounts internationally. It also raised concern over virtual currency being operated by terrorist organizations to promote bitcoin donation.

    Subhash Chandra Garg Committee

    The Indian Government Constituted a Committee under the leadership of Finance Secretary, Subash Chandra Garg in 2017. The members of the committee were top officials of the 

    • Securities and Exchange Board of India(SEBI)
    • Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC)
    • Income Tax department 
    • Financial Intelligence Unit
    • RBI

    The purpose of the committee was to study issues related to virtual currencies and propose possible actions that could be taken.

    The committee has held a series of meetings with inter-ministerial meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, the Central Board of Direct Taxes, and MeitY.

    The committee briefed the FDSC council about the report on 31-10-2018.

    The Committee Concerns

    • The customers could be misled and subjected to fraud or Ponzi schemes due to the non-official nature of the virtual currency. 
    • Virtual currencies cannot be controlled by any authority. This lack of control could lead to excessive volatility which could affect the economy at a larger pace.
    • The excessive use of energy resources which could result in environmental disaster as Bitcoin mining requires humongous processing power. This, in turn, requires crippling levels of the energy system which is difficult in a country with a huge population.
    • RBI could lose control over the monetary policy by allowing private cryptocurrencies to function as it cannot keep the track of the transactions or any other activities.
    • The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies could lead to their usage of them in illegal activities like money laundering or terror funding etc.
    • In this technology, once the transactions are done, they cannot be reversed, which could be difficult sometimes.

    The Committee Recommendations

    The panel made a clear distinction between the private cryptocurrencies and the official ones that the government could issue in the future. It also specifies the benefits of Digital Ledger Technology (DLT). The recommendations:-

    The committee headed by Subash Chandra Garg has made the following recommendations:-

    • Cryptocurrencies should be banned by enforcing the law and imposing fines & penalties for those who deal with cryptocurrencies.
    • The committee has proposed a draft bill called ‘Banning of Cryptocurrency & Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2019’. According to this, the individuals who hold the currencies need to declare their holdings within 90 days of law enforcement. The individuals found guilty under the law will be fined with imprisonment and heavy penalties.
    • The committee has recommended the government be proactive and progressive towards the launch of official digital currency.
    • The committee has also proposed setting up a standing committee to revisit the addressed issues in the report as and when required.
    • The committee has suggested implementing distributed ledger technology or blockchain technology in the banking sector and other financial services like loan-issuance tracking, collateral management, fraud detection, and claims management in insurance and reconciliation systems in the securities market.
    • The committee also identified the potential use of blockchain technology in various areas such as payments systems, data identity management, or KYC requirements. 

    Is India Confused with Cryptocurrency Adoption?

    The government has always had bifurcated opinions on cryptocurrencies and the technology behind them. On one hand, it stated cryptocurrencies as ‘Ponzi Schemes’ and also banned the banks to deal with them, and on the other hand, it has expressed its desire to bring possible government services on the blockchain technology starting with the banking industry.

    For several years, it had a very passive approach to the crypto industry and allowed it to grow without any hindrance. It issued only warnings and guidelines and when the customer base grew and exchanges started to flourish it stopped its activity.

    It would be very exciting to witness the further course of action, as India is a big market for cryptocurrencies that have not yet been explored.

    Concluding Note

    Cryptocurrency is now legal in India. Many developments are yet to be observed in the coming days. It would be a great deal if the government would initiate steps towards the regulation of cryptocurrencies. 

    The new laws need to be framed and taxes need to be thought of as of now. We will hope for a good future for cryptocurrencies in India and expect a positive approach from the government.

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    Crypto Journalist and Editor of guest articles in CoinPedia. I am also handling Outreach & Partnerships Manager. Contact me: [email protected]

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