Trading in Bitcoins has peaked in recent past despite of uncertainty in recognising Bitcoin as a currency in India. It is important to understand how the gains from the Bitcoin trading are treated under Indian Income Tax. Know more on how bitcoins are taxes in India.
A cryptocurrency (aka crypto) is a digital or virtual currency designed casually and later became popular, used as a currency in certain parts of the world, to buy things like a typical physical currency (Indian Rupee).
Bitcoin is one type of a cryptocurrency. There are several cryptocurrencies are being traded in various crypto exchanges around the world and gained much popularity in recent times.
In India, RBI banned the cryptos to prohibit investments and / or trading cryptcurrencies, virtual currencies in India and later Supreme Court of India set aside the ban through a special ruling.
Let's look at the chronology of major cryptocurrency regulatory events in India
Initially, it was a guidance document released to caution the people of India, regarding the potential economic, financial, operational, legal, customer protection and security related risks associated in dealing with such virtual currencies.
RBI again re-iterated its position stating the same with serious cautionary note advising not to trade, own virtual currencies in India.
Supreme Court of India set aside the RBI ban in using or dealing with cryptocurrencies in India. With the Supreme court ruling, the banks are allowed to handle cryptocurrency transactions but not recognised as a currency. Later that led to additional investments and innovation with the trading platforms in India.
As per the Income Tax Act, a Capital Asset means a property held be a person. From that perspective, As cryptos (synonymously called 'Bitcoin' though it's just one type of crypto) are not recognised as a currency, could be deemed to be a capital asset.
As the people buying, holding the bitcoins are in essence, are in possession of a capital asset. Selling such leads to a gain or loss and can be treated as capital gain or capital loss.
Like intra-day trading of stocks, futures, or options, frequent trading of cryptos shall be taxable as a business income.
Both long-term capital gains (LTCG) or short-term capital gains (STCG) for the crypto trading attract prevailing tax rates. Refer Capital Gains Guide
Crypto losses should be treated similar to any other capital losses and the carry forward rules do apply for such.
Applicable residency rules (NRI, ROR, RNOR) for capital assets tax treatment do apply for cryptos too.
While the underlying blockchain technology has a variety of use cases in India, unless cryptos are recognised as a currency by the RBI, trading on such is like trading an asset where the asset's core purpose and scope was not fully usable.
With the current state of economy due to COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent challenges in the banking sector, RBI may formally ban trading of cryptos in coming months and may introduce a policy document to introduce it's own 'BCoin'.