Would Nirmala find love for crypto in her 2nd term?

Nirmala Sitharaman’s confirmation as India’s Finance Minister for the second term in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sparked speculations in the crypto community amidst continuing arguments about the future of cryptocurrencies in India.

Sitharaman has had a harsh stance on crypto regulations in India with her claiming in the past that crypto assets can’t be legal currencies. However, the fact that the Indian government has not banned cryptocurrencies and has positively adopted blockchain technology in its governance, has kept the hopes of the crypto community afloat.

After the Modi government received a fractured mandate in the recently concluded general elections of India, speculations were rife that the country could see a new finance minister at the helm of affairs. In this context, Nirmala’s re-appointment comes amid underwhelming market (both traditional and crypto) expectations.

Who is Nirmala Sitharaman- India’s Finance Chief?

On Sunday, 65-year-old Sitharaman took oath as part of Modi’s third term cabinet, despite not running as a candidate in the recently concluded Indian general elections 2024. Sitharaman is currently an MP in Rajya Sabha of India, and she has been at the helm of the Finance Ministry since 2019, An alma mater of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Nirmala has also served as former defense minister in Modi’s government. 

As Finance minister, she now holds the distinction of presenting six Union Budgets, a feat matched only by former PM Morarji Desai. Her tenure has been characterized by significant reforms aimed at driving economic growth and enhancing financial transparency. However, critics have questioned the increased tax slabs and complex regulatory framework in taxation policies during her regime.

Nirmala’s statements on Crypto 

Before the elections, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated that there would be no changes to cryptocurrency policies, they will remain as assets and not a currency in India. This was to avoid controversy ahead of elections and maintain stability in the markets. Nirmala’s statement clearly postponed any potential reforms or new regulations till the elections, leaving the crypto community in uncertainty. 

In the past, she stated that G20 members agree any action on crypto assets must be global, speaking at a news conference after the second G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) meeting. 

She has consistently underscored the need for a global consensus on digital asset regulation, stressing that the borderless nature of technology necessitates international cooperation. This viewpoint highlights her understanding of the interconnected global financial system and the unique challenges posed by decentralized currencies.Her previous actions and statements on digital assets are important markers for projecting the country’s regulatory policies, taxation systems, and infrastructure initiatives.

Cryptocurrency Regulation and Taxation in India

In 2019, the Modi government’s appointed inter-ministerial committee had proposed a bill “Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency” and suggested imposing penalties from citizens engaging in any crypto activities. Despite not passing the bill, India swiftly imposed a 30% tax and 1% TDS on crypto gains. 

The inter-ministerial committee was in praise of decentralized ledger technology (DLT) also known as blockchain and proposed its use in banking, insurance, financial services and other sectors to increase transparency and efficiency in operations. The committee also urged the Indian government to think of developing a centralized digital currency.

Future of Crypto Tax in India

Post Nirmala’s re-appointment, the crypto community is rift with speculations whether India will see a further rise in the taxation  against crypto earnings. 

Furthermore, issues remain about the taxation of cryptocurrency holdings under Sitharaman’s administration. Will existing tax policies be revised to reflect the changing nature of digital assets?

As of now, there is no indication from the government of any imminent changes to the current tax structure. Sitharaman’s previous statements and the existing tax framework suggest that any adjustments would be revealed in future budgets or official announcements.

Currently, India’s cryptocurrency taxation regime includes a 30% tax on profits from crypto transactions, alongside a 1% Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) on all crypto dealings. These measures are designed to enhance transparency and curb illicit activities such as money laundering and terrorism financing. Sitharaman has reiterated the need for stringent regulation to mitigate these risks

The cryptocurrency community is not happy with Sitharaman’s policies and statements. Crypto advocates show concern over the high tax rates and the lack of clear guidelines on the future of cryptocurrencies in India. In a recent interview, Sitharaman reiterated the importance of international dialogue on cryptocurrency regulation, signaling a willingness to engage with global stakeholders.

However, her firm stance against classifying cryptocurrencies as legal tender and her endorsement of the RBI’s position on private cryptocurrencies have drawn criticism. Critics argue that these policies could stifle the growth and adoption of digital currencies in India.

Policy Directions and Infrastructure Plans

Beyond cryptocurrency regulation, Sitharaman’s influence extends to broader policy changes and infrastructure development. Will initiatives develop to promote cryptocurrency innovation and incorporation into mainstream finance? 

Her advocacy for a tech-driven regulatory framework and her emphasis on establishing standard operating procedures during India’s G20 presidency indicate a strategic push toward creating a robust infrastructure for cryptocurrencies. However, specifics on these initiatives remain sparse.

Sitharaman’s reappointment comes at a pivotal juncture in India’s cryptocurrency policy, as decisions made by the Finance Ministry would have a big impact on the country’s future digital asset ecosystem.

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