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What does the 2022 Finance Bill mean for crypto-assets in India?

Posted by Vipul Kharbanda, Aman Nair at Feb 03, 2022 12:00 AM |


The recent budget speech saw the Finance Minister propose a slew of measures that seek to clarify the taxation regime with regards to crypto-assets in India. The speech, and the proposed measures, have led to significant discussion and debate within the domestic crypto-ecosystem as questions continue to be raised about the ambiguous legality of crypto-assets in the absence of any dedicated crypto legislation. In the face of this uncertainty, this blog post looks to contextualise the proposals put forth by the Finance Minister in her speech and clarify what they mean for crypto-asset regulation and use in India. 

Crypto-assets defined as a virtual digital asset and taxed at 30% 

The 2022 Finance Bill, introduces the definition of a ‘virtual digital asset’ as an amendment to the 1961 Income Tax Act. The government defines a virtual digital asset as: 

  1. Any information or code or number or token (not being Indian currency or foreign currency), generated through cryptographic means or otherwise, by whatever name called, providing a digital representation of value exchanged with or without consideration, with the promise or representation of having inherent value, or functions as a store of value or a unit of account including its use in any financial transaction or investment, but not limited to investment scheme; and can be transferred, stored or traded electronically; 

  2. A non-fungible token or any other token of similar nature, by whatever name called;

  3. Any other digital asset, as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette specify​​

Furthermore, the bill also introduces section 115BBH to the Income Tax Act, according to which income or profits generated from the transfer of  ‘virtual digital assets’ would be taxed at the rate of 30%. The Finance Minister further clarified that any expenses incurred in carrying out such trades cannot be set-off or deducted from the profits generated, except the amount spent on buying the crypto-asset in the first place. Further in case of losses incurred from crypto-asset trading, such losses cannot be carried over to subsequent financial years.

While this clarification of the provisions relating to crypto-assets under the Income Tax Act, 1961 drew much attention for their potential impact, it is important to note that this measure is far from a departure from the government’s pre-existing stance. In responses to parliamentary questions on 30th November 2021 and 23rd March 2021, the Minister of Finance has repeatedly stressed the liability to pay taxes on any profits arising out of crypto trading under Indian tax law. 

The budget speech merely clarified the provisions under which profits from crypto trading shall be taxed. Prior to this, there had been a fair amount of debate as to whether profits from crypto trading would be included as part of the regular income, income from other sources, or if they would be taxed as capital gains. This distinction and categorisation was critical as it determined the rate of tax applicable to crypto profits. However with the proposed section 115BBH, the government has made the taxation regime clearer on how these profits are to be taxed. 

Introduction of TDS onto crypto-asset transactions and transfers 

Another provision that this budget has proposed is the introduction of a 1% TDS (Tax Deducted at Source) on any transfer of a crypto-asset, provided that other conditions in relation to aggregate sales specified in the proposed section 194-S are satisfied. It must be noted that this TDS shall be payable not only on cash transfers, but even on trades where one cryptocurrency has been traded for another cryptocurrency. Thus trades where Bitcoin is bought using Tether would also be liable to such TDS deduction. Interestingly, the way the provision is currently drafted, if any person accepts payment for any goods or services in cryptocurrency, then such a person would be liable to pay TDS at 1%. This is because the Income Tax Act treats the cryptocurrency as the asset being bought or sold and treats the good or service being provided by the “seller” as the consideration. Thus instead of it being looked at as a transaction where one person is paying for something by using cryptocurrency, it is looked at as a transaction where the other person is buying the cryptocurrency and paying for it in kind (through the goods or services of the “seller”).

Questions of enforcement still remain

 While these measures do bring a certain level of clarity and stability in the taxation regime with regard to crypto-assets, one still needs to grapple with the issue of their implementation. News reports suggest that about 15-20 percent of the investors in crypto assets are in the 18-20 year age group. A number of such investors do not file tax returns since they are mainly students investing their extra savings or “pocket money” to make a quick profit. Ensuring that this demographic actually follows the letter of the law may be a challenge for the revenue authorities and it would be interesting to see how they overcome it.