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India to ban ownership of cryptocurrencies

About eight million Indians have invested in cryptocurrencies

Mayank Aggarwal
Monday 15 March 2021 11:21 GMT
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The Indian government seeks to propose a law banning cryptocurrencies under which anyone involved in its trading or holding such assets could be fined, according to reports.

Reuters news agency on Monday quoted a senior government official with direct knowledge of the plan as saying that the bill would criminalise possession, issuance, mining, trading and transferring crypto-assets.

One of the main reasons behind the move is reportedly a lack of regulation. Experts say that such currencies are highly volatile in terms of their value and could result in financial disaster for investors.

There is no official data in India about the number of cryptocurrency investors and the worth of their investments. It is estimated by industry experts that there are over eight millions of investors with investments are worth several hundred million pounds.

If the proposed bill becomes law it would deal a blow to such investors. But as a relief, the bill would reportedly allow them up to six months to liquidate their assets after which there will be penalties on holding them.

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The content of the bill is not yet public but officials are confident of getting it passed in parliament. The government’s decision about penalties on those who would not liquidate their crypto-assets within the law’s grace period would be carefully assessed.

However, the official refused to clarify to Reuters whether the new bill would also include a jail term, stating that discussions are in their final stages.

If it becomes the law, India would be the first major economy to make holding cryptocurrency illegal. The news comes even as Bitcoin, which is the world’s biggest and most popular cryptocurrency at present, hit a record high of $60,000 (£43,000) on Saturday.

Over the past couple of years, the uncertainty in India around cryptocurrencies, including the popular ones like Bitcoin has increased. The federal government's idea is to discourage private virtual currencies and build a framework for an official digital currency.

India’s central bank is already working on launching its own digital currency.

According to the paper ‘Blockchain Technology and its Industry Adoption’ released on 10 March by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and EY, a consulting firm, cryptocurrency in India has received a great deal of attention over the past several years culminating in a recent recommendation to ban cryptocurrency nationally.

“Since last year, banks in India have been barred by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) from dealing with cryptocurrency firms and exchanges,” noted the paper while stating that several petitions have been filed to overturn the RBI ban, and now the matter is with the Supreme Court.

An inter-ministerial committee set up by the Indian government to determine the legality of cryptocurrencies submitted its report in July 2019 recommending that private cryptocurrencies be banned completely. It noted that the government should keep an open mind on the potential introduction of an official cryptocurrency.

A spokesperson for the IAMAI said they have “argued against banning crypto assets on several grounds, most important of which is of course, the ban will have no impact on trading in them expect to take them underground.”

“Instead, the government needs to weigh in on a self-regulatory code of ethics for intermediaries like the exchanges through with such currencies are bought and sold by Indian investors. This will help bring in transparency between buyers and sellers and also allow the government to keep oversight and check against any violation of existing laws of the land,” the IAMAI spokesperson told The Independent.

India’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has tried to soothe the nerves of investors in cryptocurrencies.

“I can only give you this clue that we are not closing our minds, we are looking at ways in which experiments can happen in the digital world and cryptocurrency. There will be a very calibrated position taken,” she told CNBC-TV18 News.

Additional reporting by agencies

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