Cryptocurrency Taxation in India
While India Cryptocurrency Taxation scene is still evolving, in this post I will cover how the cryptocurrency might be taxed in India.
India Cryptocurrency Taxation under Direct Tax Regime
The treatment of cryptocurrencies under the direct tax regime is mainly governed by the Income Tax Act in India. In the current legal landscape, there is no certainty regarding the taxation of cryptocurrency nor any disclosure requirement about the income earned is issued by the Income Tax Department.
Moving on, if cryptocurrency is considered as 'currency', it would not be susceptible to tax under the IT Act.
- The first reason being, under the Act, the definition of 'income' is an inclusive one, which comprises not only the 'natural' meaning but also the items mentioned under Sec 2(24) of the IT Act. But neither the natural meaning nor Sec 2(24) of the IT Act includes 'money' or 'currency' as income, although it includes 'monetary payment'.
- Secondly, being a mode of consideration, the tax incidence would be on the transaction and not on the currency. On the other hand, if cryptocurrency is considered as goods/property, then clearly it would be either covered within the charging provision of 'Profit and Gains from Business and Profession' or 'Income from Capital Gains', depending upon its use for business/profession or not. It would not be out of place to state that the ambit of the word 'income' is not restricted to the words 'profits' and 'gains' and anything which can appropriately be designated as 'income' is liable to be taxed under the IT Act, unless expressly exempted.
Treatment under the head 'Capital Gains'
Sec 2(14) of the IT Act defines a capital asset as "property of any kind held by the assessee whether or not connected with his business or profession". This definition of 'capital asset' provided is widest in itself and covers all kinds of property except those expressly excluded under the Act.0 Therefore, any gains arising out of the transfer of cryptocurrency must be considered as capital gains, if they are held for investment.
Taxability under 'Profit and Gains from Business and Profession'
The tax treatment of cryptocurrencies when held as 'stock in trade' is not the one which faces major difficulties as the issues arising while treating it as capital gains do not arise when such cryptocurrencies are held in furtherance of business activity. Under Sec 2(13) of the IT Act, the definition of 'business' is inclusive, and comprises of "trade, commerce or manufacture or any adventure or concern of such nature." Moreover, any continuous activity like trade in cryptocurrencies is included within this definition, and profits realized are taxable thereunder, chargeable under Sec 28 of the IT Act.
The profits may not necessarily be in the form of money, they are taxable even if they are 'in-kind'. Any expenditure incurred for this purpose, such as the purchase of computing power as a capital asset, should be allowable as a deduction per the provisions specified in Sec 30 to Sec 43D of the IT Act.
India Cryptocurrency Taxation under Indirect Tax Regime
The treatment of cryptocurrency as goods/property implies that the supply of bitcoins is a 'taxable supply' and hence subject to GST. Technically, a supply of cryptocurrency as goods or property in exchange for other virtual/real goods should fall within the ambit of 'barter transaction' since bartering is simply an exchange of one good for another.
Even in its most innovative form, any barter transaction has two essentials -
- Direct exchange of goods or services for other goods/services and
- No use of money
Before GST, under the various state VAT laws, the incidence of tax arose when there was a sale of goods in exchange for cash, deferred payment, or any other valuable consideration. The expression 'any other valuable consideration' leaves out a wide scope of ambiguity, since the term should typically derive reference, ejusdem generis, from its preceding terms (i.e. cash and deferred payment), and therefore, must not include an exchange of goods for other goods. This view was reiterated by the Supreme Court in the case of Sales Tax Commissioner v. Ram Kumar Agarwal, where a transaction of gold bullions in exchange for ornaments was excluded from the definition of sale under Sec 2(h) of the Sale of Goods Act, 1930. However, the position is similar to when a transaction is used as a device to conceal monetary consideration, courts may unravel the device to include it within the ambit of sale.
An approach where cryptocurrencies are considered as goods means that some transactions would be taxed twice - at first on supply (otherwise exempted for a transaction in money) and secondly on consideration, unnecessarily leading to higher tax. This higher incidence of taxation puts the businesses operating in cryptocurrencies at a huge disadvantage which also diminishes their purchasing capacity. The issue gets further complicated in cases of international transactions.
The crypto in today's scenario has the potential to boost the backbone of India's digital infrastructure and also securing all the transactions made on the digital network. In this situation levying taxes on the transactions involving cryptocurrency should be considered a welcoming move and should not be seen as a restriction. It is a two way street for the crypto transactions to be traced and used legally as well as generating income for the government to be used efficiently. It is also vehemently asserted that employing tax on crypto as a policy matter can help to provide an ideal atmosphere to assure the traders that their money is safe and the risks involved in trading are also mitigated.