PSA: No India hasn’t banned Bitcoin — but it’s still talking tough on crypto

Reports of the death of Bitcoin in India have been greatly exaggerated.

On Thursday a budget speech by finance minister Arun Jaitley generated a tsunami of ‘the Bitcoin party is over in India’ headlines, adding to downward pressures on the cryptocurrency.

Safe to say, the truth of the matter is a lot more gray. Yes, Jaitley talked tough on crypto currencies. But no, there was no outright ban — not yet, anyway. The Indian government’s plans for crypto regulation remain unformulated (or at least unstated). It did set up a committee to look into crypto back in April. Which reported in Jaitley in August. But no regulations have been confirmed, leaving rumors to swirl.

Here’s the relevant chunk of Jaitley’s budget speech (via The India Express):

Distributed ledger system or the block chain technology allows organization of any chain of records or transactions without the need of intermediaries. The Government does not consider crypto-currencies legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate use of these crypto-assets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payment system. The Government will explore use of block chain technology proactively for ushering in digital economy.

One clear takeaway from that is the minister is sounding much more positive about blockchain technology. And his tonal contrast between blockchain and cryptocurrencies is obviously intentional — and therefore interesting.

So yes Jaitley wants to sound like he’s pouring cold water on crypto. But whether that means you should hodl or not depends on your own personal threshold for risk.

The point about the Indian government not recognizing crypto as legal tender was already made by Jaitley, back in December. And a crackdown on crypto financing illegitimate activities is what any government will say it wants to do. What’s more interesting is the second clause in his sentence — where he tacks on “or as part of the payment system”, which is certainly suggestive of a ban. But nothing is explicitly stated.

And, as CNN reported earlier, Jaitley was explicitly asked if the government is moving to ban cryptocurrencies by Indian state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan, which interviewed him after the budget speech.

Here’s CNN’s translation of the exchange (emphasis mine):

TV Host: We’ve seen a lot of excitement over bitcoins. Why aren’t you banning it instead of stating it isn’t legal tender?

Jaitley: We are discouraging people from using it now. There is a government committee that’s looking into it right now and they will announce their decisions and next steps after they are done.

So really the minister’s intention looks to have been to try and inject a little more sanity into the crypto space by splashing a little cold water around. And no one should argue with the sense of that.

But how exactly will Bitcoin and crypto be regulated in India? Well, that remains to be seen.