By Vishwanath Nair and Azman Usmani
India virtually banned cryptocurrencies like bitcoin with the Reserve Bank of India barring regulated entities from providing services to any individual or business dealing in digital currencies.
The central bank has given three months to regulated entities like banks to unwind their positions with the entities related to cryptocurrencies, RBI Deputy Governor BP Kanungo said in a media conference. The regulator, however, decided that it will promote the use of blockchain – a public ledger that serves as the backbone of bitcoin – in financial services for strengthening transparency and improving inclusion.
The central bank’s move comes after at least three warnings to the public at large for being cautious while dealing with cryptocurrencies.
If they (cryptocurrencies) grow beyond a critical size they can endanger financial stability
BP Kanungo, RBI Deputy Governor
The move comes as governments around the world are stepping up scrutiny of virtual currencies mainly due to their unregulated nature. The meteoric rise in the value of bitcoin in 2017, the most popular cryptocurrency, triggered worries that such currencies could facilitate everything from money laundering to tax evasion and fraud.
Since reaching a peak of almost $20,000 in early December last year, a series curbs have pulled down bitcoin and rival cryptocurrencies, with losses intensifying since the start of 2018. China, once a global hub for cryptocurrency trading, is now leading the crackdown making them illegal. Japan and South Korea too have put in place a number of regulations.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had already earlier said that the Indian government doesn’t consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender and will take all measures to eliminate payments using them.
RBI said that it will issue detailed guidelines in a circular soon.
India isn’t giving up on the idea of a virtual currency completely. In line with central banks around the globe, the RBI too is mulling introducing a fiat digital currency. “These are issued by the central bank and are considered the liability of the central bank,” Kanungo said. “They will be in circulation in addition to the paper currency that we have. It also holds the promise of reducing the cost of printing notes.”
Accordingly, the RBI has constituted an interdepartmental committee that will submit a report on the feasibility of a fiat digital currency. The committee will submit its report by June-end.
The move has a “demonetisation” like effect on cryptocurrencies, according to Vishal Gupta, co-founder of the Digital Assets and Blockchain Foundation of India. “That effectively means people lose ability to conduct any trade or exchange, at least in the open market,” he told BloombergQuint in an interview.
These have become dead assets for people who are holding onto them. This is going to have huge repercussions. If you disallow trading there is no exit to this.
Vishal Gupta, co-founder, DABFI
“I personally believe they [RBI] will give some relief,” he added.
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