Tax Implications for Cryptocurrency Assets in India
Cryptocurrency in India may attract tax liability, but the rules are still unclear as the Reserve Bank of India has not yet granted this asset class the status of a legal tender. However, in March 2020, the Indian Supreme Court permitted banks to handle cryptocurrency transactions from traders and exchanges.
Digital ‘crypto-currency’ or ‘crypto assets’, including stablecoins and tokens, are a form of decentralized digital money, based on blockchain technology — a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. Ranging from decentralized digital tokens, such as Bitcoin, to official, sovereign-backed, central bank digital currencies — digital currency has found increasing acceptance as well as enthusiasm among its users.
These digital currencies aim to emulate the uses of traditional money as a means of payment, a store of value, and a unit of account. Mostly used for the purpose of investment, they have also been used by businesses as payments in lieu of goods and services exchanged. Since they are not issued by any central authority, these cryptocurrencies are immune from government interference and manipulation for now.
As of early 2021, there were over 4,000 different cryptocurrencies in circulation worldwide, including the market giants Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin. Despite the exponential increase in the number of digital currencies, 90 percent of the market is claimed by the top 20 cryptocurrencies. As of May 2021, the aggregate value of all the cryptocurrencies in the world stood at US$2.8 trillion.
Cryptocurrency in India
As per data from blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, Indian investments in cryptocurrency have surged to US$6.6 billion in 2021, driven by a shift in the thinking of young investors — moving away from gold and other precious metals. Another reason is the security and transparency provided by this technology.
As per a report, over 10 million crypto investors were added by India in 2021. This is noteworthy in light of speculation that the federal government plans to impose a ban on the use of cryptocurrency. However, nothing can be said conclusively unless the law regulating the digital currency is passed.
How is Cryptocurrency Acquired?
Cryptocurrency can be generated in the following ways:
- Mining: “Mining” crypto is when an individual miner uses computing technology to solve complicated algorithms/codes/equations and record data on the blockchain. In exchange for this work, one may receive payment in new crypto tokens.
- Buying: Buying it from currency exchanges using real currency and storing it in an online currency wallet in digital form.
- As legal tender: It can be used as a consideration for sale of goods and services, instead of real currency.
Legality of Cryptocurrencies in India
In 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned the use of cryptocurrency as legal tender in India by issuing a circular. However, this decision was overturned by the Indian Supreme Court in March 2020, permitting banks to handle cryptocurrency transactions from traders and exchanges.
The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 has been tabled by the government in the parliament and will most probably be taken up for discussion in the upcoming monsoon session.
Tax Implications of Cryptocurrency in India
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has not yet granted Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency the status of legal tender in India. Hence, there are no clear rules or guidelines defining taxability for cryptocurrencies, which calls for specific clarification from the Income Tax (IT) department.
However, experts have speculated upon various possibilities in which cryptocurrency transactions can be taxed under the Income Tax Act 1961 as well as the Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST) Act, 2017 — depending on the type of transaction. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has made it mandatory for companies to disclose cryptocurrency trading/investments during the financial year.
Taxation Under the Income Tax Act
Here is a roundup of different cryptocurrency transactions and their tax implications under the Income Tax Act:
Profits and gains from business and profession
These transactions include receipt of cryptocurrency as consideration for sale of goods or supply of services, and sale and purchase of cryptocurrency as stock in trade. Such transactions are liable for taxation under the Income Tax Act. Under Section 2(13) of the Income Tax Act, the definition of business is inclusive, comprising of “trade, commerce or manufacture or any adventure or concern of such nature.” Any continuous activity like trade in cryptocurrencies is included within this definition, and profits realized are taxable thereunder, chargeable under Section 28 of the Income Tax Act.
Income from other sources
These incomes include mining of cryptocurrency, dealing in cryptocurrency solely for the purpose of investment, and receipt of cryptocurrency in the form of gifts. These transactions are taxable under the Income Tax Act.
- Generation of cryptocurrency through mining: Since the digital currency generated will be treated self-generated assets, there is uncertainty as to how they will be taxed and whether the provisions of capital gains will apply, or if it will be categorized under the head of ‘income from other sources’. Experts believe that currency generated through mining will indeed be considered under the head of income from other sources. It is to be noted that Section 55 of the Income Tax Act, which deals with the cost of acquisition and improvement, does not recognize mining.
- Receiving Crypto currency in the form of gift: Gifts received are taxed under the head income from other sources, and are taxed at individual slab-rates. Consequently, cryptocurrency received as gift will be taxed under income from other sources at concerned slab-rate and cryptocurrency received as gift worth INR 50,000 (US$671.07) and above shall be entirely taxable.
Also, the exemptions from tax on gifts received may apply on cryptocurrency as well. Some of the exemptions from tax liability on gifts are gifts received:
- From relatives
- On the occasion of marriage
- Under a will or by way of inheritance
Salary and income from house property
Since the cryptocurrency is not recognized as legal tender by the government, employers cannot make salary payments using this digital currency. Similarly, payment of rent using this currency is not legal and hence not recognized. Therefore, it will not have any tax liability in India under the present law, unless specific guidelines for the same are announced.
Section 2(14) of the Income Tax Act defines a capital asset as ‘property of any kind held by the assessee whether or not connected with his business or profession’. Thus capital assets include all kinds of property except those expressly excluded under the Act. Therefore, any gains arising out of the transfer of cryptocurrency must be considered as capital gains, if they are held for investment. Depending on the duration for which these crypto assets are held for the purpose of investment, they would be subject to taxation under long-term capital gains (20 percent post indexation) or short-term capital gains (taxed as per individual slab rate).
Taxation under the Central Goods and Services Tax Act
Any business activity pertaining to cryptocurrencies or crypto assets, unless specifically exempted, is taxable under the CGST Act.
Indian crypto exchanges already charge GST from their users. This indirect tax is included in the trading fee that exchanges add to the buying price of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Tether, etc. Furthermore, the exchanges pay GST to the government as part of their general tax payments.
Recent reports suggest that foreign crypto exchanges in India might have to pay GST of 18 percent on cryptocurrency transactions in India. An equalization levy at two percent might also be imposed on them. To include these overseas crypto exchanges under the Indian tax umbrella, the Indian government could categorize overseas crypto exchanges with Indian users as Online Information Database Access and Retrieval (OIDAR) services.