Chasing the Bitcoin train in India has been a challenge beyond expectations. Of course, no one expected this to be easy. The patterns that emerged from Europe, US & China have been similar to the patterns across India. Mining interest came first, followed by Exchanges, and now eCommerce has started, possibly to be followed by gaming.
Lightspeed Ventures, Maninder Gulati’s prediction of USD $100 mn rolling into the Bitcoin ecosystem through VC funds promises to make 2014 a year to reckon with. It would be great to see a percentage of those funds reaching India.
So, where exactly are the legendary technology people from India? Agreed that the world has seen tremendous contribution from them, but what about India. Several global Bitcoin startups have emerged with Indians at the helm. But hardly any have grown out of India. Where does the problem lie?
The lack of clarity in regulation could be a large part of the problem, apart from Bitcoin being rendered as an investment vehicle above all else. Most Asian Countries have stayed cautious towards Bitcoin as its gaze grows stronger over these regions as well. India, not to be underestimated, engages some of the strictest capital controls. Tough as it can be to get money into Indian businesses, it is just as hard to purchase things from outside.
Bitcoin brings a level playing field in this space as crowd funding projects for Crypto in India becomes easier, as crypto currencies are as global as email. Several Crowd funding platforms exist where any project that is well thought of can be funded from around the world. This is another use case for Bitcoin in India, where the world gets to vote on a project to succeed.
There are millions of other uses that are gaining traction with 2.0 protocols coming to life in the form of Etherium, hybrid alt-coins, Open Transactions and several other innovative products based around this vibrant technology. These are still at a stage of early adoption and are in dire need of ecosystems to grow.
Highkart seems to be a great step in the right direction for India. A superb effort from a Delhi group of entrepreneurs, this is a great move towards building up the blocks that will form a stronger case for the community to use as a value addition. Everyday products that can easily be purchased by Bitcoins, makes for a pressing statement. Lower transaction fees and a better control over the customer cycle enables businesses like this to grow quickly and stimulate the economy.
Greater innovation is demanded in this ultra fast world of Cryptcurrencies, where we have total control over our audience and effort. The world has come a long way from the time of exchanging shells and we finally have reached a solution where a certain form of democratic money has been achieved. There are specific implementations that can be achieved through colored coins and decentralized verification systems; These will rapidly change the way we identify with all facets of the future.
As the regulatory authorities failed to provide any form of clarity, suggestions, open discussions or direction towards Bitcoin trading, a strong movement to gain clarity has arisen from Hyderabad. Led by Badravada Venugopal, the ‘fan’ of Bitcoin has filed a notice through Chaitanya Associates from Bangalore to gain answers from the regulatory authorities. An Independent effort, this is a testament to the effort in place to gain some ground across India. The PDF copy of the notice can be found here.
The community in India moves on, with active meetup groups across 6 cities and a growing sense of urgency to grab a piece of the pie. India needs its fair share of Bitcoin and the longer we delay, the harder it gets to catch up with the rest of the world. Cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy and have not yet reached their potential. If current laws are applied to a future technology, no one is going to get it right.
To learn more about Bitcoin and to get started, do check with Coinsecure’s chat support. This service runs from 10:30am to 5:30pm IST and is aimed mainly at Indians who want to learn about getting started with Bitcoin.
The circular clearly outlines opportunities for Bitcoin in India and sets a firm set of rules to be followed in order for it to gain acceptance outside the community. In no place are there indications of Bitcoin being banned or made illegal. Here are the opportunities to be targetted for Bitcoin to succeed and push forward. Click this link to view the circular issued by the Reserve Bank of India.
Keep your software wallets secure. Keep paper wallet backups and follow best pactices. If you do not know how. Ask, there are several forums that help with even the minutest of queries. That being said. Bitcoin is not for zero-knowledge users.
Use an arbitrator between transactions. Have a clear cut contract before doing any Bitcoin transaction. There is no central authority that will take ownership of your loss with Bitcoin or the loss arising out of it.
Bitcoin is highly Volatile. There are mechanisms in place to bridge that gap as well.
Processors: Use a processor if you need to accept Bitcoin for your business. The processor should be able to convert BTC to INR and cover any risk for your business.
If you need to send Bitcoin to someone, Buy it and send it within a timespan of 15 – 20 minutes. Avoid holding Bitcoin for too long if you are using it to transfer value.
Talk to a lawyer, if you think that is expensive or out of reach, do not start a business to trade Bitcoins. Research and understand the scope of the regulations and take advice when needed.
Maintain and share records when requested by the authorities if you run a Bitcoin based business. Pay taxes on gains and check with a CA if needed. Asking the RBI for a statement and acceptance of Bitcoin must be reciprocated with a community effort of keeping an eye out for their interests as well.
The past few years have seen Bitcoin attract attention from outcast markets and in order to stem the usage of Bitcoin in those markets, the community decided to maintain records, abide by regulatory requirements and keep Bitcoin accessible to everyone.
We are now at the threshold of a point where we either see Bitcoin surface in a controlled, well established manner. Or it may be classified to the cash only markets that India is heavy on.
Bitcoin is not an investment or an asset as yet. It is a high risk experiment on a technology and social level. It requires greater centralization in order to be recognized by the current regulatory regime in India. Crypto-currencies need a new legal framework in order to maintain parity with this technology.
They key here is for us to start talking about the technology behind Bitcoin rather than the ideaology behind it. It does hold a lot of conversational material, but needs to grow beyond that into the technical mammoth that it is.
Bitcoin is not just a store of value and a transfer mechansim, it is also a bountiful library of secure well tested code, that has numerous applications outside of its financial spectre.
Although shaken by the recent events, the core of the community and several intelligent people around the Legal and Intellectual communities are aware of Bitcoins potential. India has the potential to rocket past the rest of the world due to the variety of uses of Cryptocurrencies across our diverse nation.
The RBI are currently going down the correct path of investigating end points rather than stopping Bitcoin itself. This is a futuristic market and any country undergoing a modernization routine cannot afford to stand back or impede growth.
Crypto-currencies that are decentralized and open source, cannot really be shut down. The recent Bitcoin Conference in Bangalore, which had over 200 delegates saw this technology in action as people discussed it and disceted it and still did not have a clear understanding of how to stop it.
The Bitcoin community, now has to ‘wait and watch’ and aid in any way possible to bring about this positive movement for Crypto currencies.
Jeff Garzik makes up for a substantial portion of the Bitcoin development team. Self-described as a Husband, father, Linux kernel, cloud computing, Bitcoin, armchair foreign policy nerd & kinda sorta libertarian.
Jeff Garzik is an American Red Hat engineer and Bitcoin developer. He studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and currently is employed by Red Hat as a kernel developer. He is also the founder of BitcoinWatch, a website for statistics in Bitcoin. Garzik wrote the original push-pool daemon used by all of the pooled miners today. He’s also the original author of ethtool. As an advocate of Austrian economics, Garzik argues that the deflationary aspect of Bitcoin makes it a superior currency and that the decentralized nature means it’s a fairer means of commerce.
Bitcoins technical side has been covered in great volume, so I requested a few opinions from Jeff Garzik during our discussion below.
Chinwag with Jeff Garzik
Question: What is the most non-technical way to explain Bitcoin?
Answer: A global Internet currency with no central bank or controlling authority.
Question: When is Bitcoin-qt likely to come out of Beta?
Answer: When “lightweight client” mode is fully functional and tested.
Perhaps a year or two.
Question: Do you see Bitcoin as the end product or are there forked technologies that may take over as the anonymous currency of choice?
Answer: Bitcoin is just the beginning of a brand new category of algorithms. Bitcoin itself may fail, but it is the first of a new category of “crypto-currencies” based on the proof-of-work algorithm method.
Question: How is the Bitcoin development team funded?
Answer: Gavin Andresen is very recently employed full time by the BitcoinFoundation. All other developers are unpaid volunteers.
Question: What is your Vision on the future of money?
Answer: Bitcoin, the Euro, the US Dollar, China’s RMB will all exist on an even playing field. You may choose which type of currency you hold in your wallet, and transact with.
Question: Any thoughts on Bitcoin in India?
Answer: Would be great! Among other things, Bitcoin is great for low-fee remittances from relatives overseas to those at home.
2013 was expected to be a big year for Bitcoin in India, with small Exchanges emerging and IndiaBitcoin coming up fast as a one-stop-shop for Bitcoin in India. As Jeff’s last answer had suggested, remittance is a huge opportunity for Bitcoin in India and there is an initiative being planned for a service rollout this year as well.
Remittances is a growing market in India. Currently dominated by banks or Hawala operators (Interpol Hawala Document), Bitcoin can instantly change this market bringing about a tremendous positive change to the way remittances can occur. Thanks to the global ledger capabilities in the blockchain. This change can even be driven and adopted by the remittance companies and banks currently operating in India.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a surge of queries on my Blog’s public comment board and a stream of e-mails requesting help with a moot proposition. A moot proposition is a fictional case worked out by law students. During one of the moot propositions, Bitcoin made its debut. I am hoping to summarize some of those questions in this post below.
This article will outline the conversations between several students seeking more information on Bitcoins legal status and classification. Links have been provided at the end of this article for further reference, all of which have been studied thoroughly for traces of Bitcoins characteristics. A few of the discussions have already been recorded under the second half of the page’s comments at this link. I am also amending some of the answers that I had replied in order to summarize the posts.
The moot proposition that started it all can be downloaded here as a PDF file.
Summaries from different individuals, Some of the Questions that came up from this case were:
Question: My moot problem (which is fictitious) is based on a person being arrested for dealing in bitcoins. He exchanged 5000 bitcoins for Rs.36, 00, 000/- you seem to have a lot of knowledge on the subject. Was wondering if you could help? I haven’t really been able to grasp the concept of bitcoins to begin with, secondly as per your blog bitcoins are being mined in India and so could be considered a domestic currency. Is there a limit on how much you can transact of something to that effect?
Reply: Bitcoin can be considered a domestic currency, as it can be mined using Indian Electricity. It is a debatable topic. There are no transaction limits, however there is a finite number of Bitcoins that will ever be mined into existence. As the demand for Bitcoin increases, so will its value.
Question: I just want to know whether bitcoins are regulated by FEMA, 1999 or RBI regulations. If bitcoins purchased in a foreign nation and exchanging it to an authorised money exchanger in India without special or general permission from RBI amounts to an offence of money laundering?
Reply: It cannot come under FEMA because Bitcoins can be mined in India as well, Making it a domestic software. Anytime Bitcoin comes in Contact with Fiat, it moves into the grey are of the law. However cash and P2P networks are nearly impossible to regulate – Good example would be Bit torrent, we all know that it is used for illegal file sharing, but it cannot be shut down due to its decentralized nature. Even though the authorities and regulators know about it.
Question: If a person making transaction in Bitcoin is arrested by economic offences wing of police and charged for the offences of FEMA and prevention of money laundering stating that dealing with Bitcoin using fiat needs permission of RBI, then how could he defend himself from?
Reply: But where does it state by the RBI that Bitcoins cannot be used? Once again Bitcoin to Fiat rests in the grey area of the law. As far as money laundering is concerned, this is more prevalent with cash than Bitcoin. As long as taxes are paid and income is declared and nothing illegal is undertaken, why would Money Laundering come into the picture as well? There is nothing related to Bitcoin in any countries laws. Bitcoin was developed to solve these problem.
Does dealing in bitcoins violate the provisions of Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 specifically Section – 3, 4, 7, 13 and moreover does it violate any Foreign trade and exchange laws or any RBI regulations or guidelines.
Is Bitcoin a currency under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 and if not then why?
As Bitcoin can be mined in India itself, it cannot be classified as an International currency. Even if the coins are mined outside the country, it is very easy to mix the coins and anonymize the transaction. This typically cannot be regulated.
Bitcoin can be termed as a currency as can Rice and Salt. At the same time, all these currencies can be termed as commodities as well. Bitcoin is a unique set of characters which have value due to the fact that they are scare and hard to mine.
There is nothing like Bitcoin in any current Indian regulation.
Question: Can Bitcoins be termed as currency under the definition provided by FEMA. On this line, if we can prove that they are Currency and FEMA is attracted, then we can go on to say that some RBI regulations are required to make such currency legal in India. Therefore, mainly I wanted your opinion on the issue whether Bitcoins can be covered under the definition of currency provided under Section 2(h) of the FEMA.
Answer: Bitcoin is an item of trade used to buy and sell various goods and services. It is also a piece of software that can be sold or bought by anyone who puts a price on It gathers value from the users and people who create and mine Bitcoin. If a currency needs to be issued by a governing body the Bitcoin cannot be classified as a currency.
Bitcoin is a commodity and a currency. It is the same as Gold or Precious stones.
As Bitcoin is open source and unregulated, it is free game for everyone. It has been a tremendous investment in 2012 and surges forward in 2013 as well. Any government that decides to regulate, control or outlaw Bitcoin only faces the problem of creating more value in Bitcoin due to its uniqueness. Bitcoin is nothing more than a unique and secure way of sending a string of numbers from one person to another. Due to tremendous merchant adoption as a token of value, Bitcoin races the charts at all the global exchanges every single day. The Bitcoin network is the strongest combined computational force in existence. Strengthened by millions of users, this network cannot be hacked into or have any of its parameters changed.
The importance of leveraging the economics of Bitcoin is more valuable today than the technology side of it. It was compared to the internet by Aaron Koenig, when he said “Bitcoin is like the decentralized internet. Not everyone knows how the internet works, packet switching, TCP/IP, etc., but we all know how to use the internet. And we do it every single day.
I plan to stay on course with my dedication to Bitcoin, expanding into newer and deeper economics and application development. As long as Bitcoin is not used illegally and taxes are paid in a currency accepted by the Government, It is cross border open-banking at its finest.
With Indiabitcoin.com all set to integrate India with Bitcoin, one can only hope that more adoption will follow.
Mobilecozy came into the payments market earlier this year and have been pursuing an effective & steady drive to network and promote their white label mPOS product. They are currently in a pre-launch phase.
Sainath Gupta is founder & CEO of MobileCozy. An entrepreneur and businessman from a remarkably early age, Sainath is forging a path through rough regulated waters to simplify card payments.
Sainath Gupta, CEO Of Mobilecozy @sainathgupta
As with any software company, Mobilecozy is also working on a SaaS project with a European client. The project they are working on is an NFC + Bitcoin initiative. As a consultant to their Bitcoin project, I was requested to present Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin & Paradigm shifts in the Indian Payments ecosystem at the summit as part of a panel discussion.
Knowledgefaber is facts based consulting and research firm. With technology advancements, consumers today can pay for their transactions in more than one way. But 97% of people in India still complete their transactions using cash. This is seen by them as a huge opportunity for new methods & technologies for payments and is the reason behind this summit.
The summit aims to bring together experts from Prepaid, M payments, other payment players, BFSI, Payment tech enablers & software companies and discuss the way ahead.
The conference had a mix of traditional bankers and emerging payments companies in the audience.
The Panel Discussion
The topics of discussion were:
Emergence of new payment methods – How the increasing use and adoption of payment methods like prepaid cards, m-payments ( Mobile card readers, NFC based payment systems, mobile wallets etc.), electronic payment gateways and e-wallets are challenging incumbent methods (credit/debit cards etc.)
Payment landscape in developed v/s emerging countries – How the affluence and technology maturity in various countries affect the choices of payment methods (Special emphasis on India)
Which payment methods will face least resistance in terms of consumer adoption and why – globally and in India?
Which segment of new payment methods will see maximum competition? What will be the niche areas to target for new entrants?
How various entities/stakeholders, currently active in payment industries have to evolve to stay relevant? (Banks, Visa/Mastercard, Payment gateway companies, merchants etc.)
Conclusion: Identifying next winners in the payment industry – globally and in India.
I was honored to be a part of the panel which included:
Vipul Vohra – Engagement Manager at Knowledgefaber & Moderator
Neel Chowdhury – Co-founder and COO, Giftloop and Former CMO, Obopay
Kunnal Sharma – Business Head, Global Remittances, TimesofMoney
Bhavin Satikunvar – AVP, Internet and mobile banking, Dhanlaxmi Bank
Vipul Vohra started the discussion by presenting us with a few numbers from the global cash based economies.
USA has a cash usage of 60%.
EU has a cash usage of 78%.
India stands at 97% cash usage.
This outlines the number of opportunities for players who want to involve in the payments landscape. Electronic & Mobile wallets, gateways and micropayments are forming a strong area of opportunity.
Speaking about the global trends in payments, Kunnal painted a picture of the payment landscape in the US. He also spoke about mPesa in Kenya and how the landscape was shifting in India. He spoke about the history of payments and the evolutionary path.
He felt that people were not ready for Mobile in India and going mobile will not solve too many immediate problems. He had an approach which was to respond to demand rather than to create demand. He attempted to drop a few case studies similar to Brett Kings Bank 2.0 in terms of future bankers of our youth.
He spoke about the lack of infrastructure and the poor 3G networks in India. He mentioned that most phones in Japan were waterproof because most youth bring their phones to the shower. He felt that the RBI was progressive, supportive and willing to enable more players in the money market.
He reacted negatively when he heard about Bitcoin being open source. He mentioned “If trust and convenience is there, the payment industry lets you make money. I am of the firm opinion and I don’t really like the players who come to the market and say that it’s free to the consumer. No, the consumer wants to pay money. The payment industry need to make money at the end of the day and if we start to discount products, then the industry is not going to make money.”
Neel Choudhary @neelspeak
A thought leader in India today, Neel is the Co-Founder and COO for Giftloop. A social payments company, Giftloop is in a pre-launch stage. His vision for emerging payments rests with Mobile & Social payments.
He was vocal about the success of mPesa in Kenya and spoke of the issues regarding India. Adoption and Awareness are two areas of opportunity in India. He stressed on the security of Mobile Payments, when he stated correctly, ‘is Safer than Cash’. He feels that cash will never die, however transactions with cash will reduce.
Mobile payments will take off; it is only a matter of time. He feels strongly that mobile payments and mobile money will explode in India due to its 1.2B population. Neel rightly pointed out that technology builds are not a high cost problem these days.
He predicts social payments with mobile as a principal driver in payments. Collaboration will play a pivotal role in bringing in newer payment methods to challenge cash.
A banking veteran, Bhavin brought forward several consumer level problems such as ease of use and adoption. He maintained a non-opinionated stance and spoke about a progressive India. He mentioned areas of awareness as well. Customer on boarding is also a problem being faced by Banks today.
Bhavin rightly pointed out that the B2B payments market is yet to explode in India as well, and there is a dire requirement for it. The interchange charge reduction was also proposed by Bhavin.
He praised the RBI (Reserve Bank of India), mentioning that they were extremely cooperative and are working closely with Banks to encourage more initiatives to cover the unbanked population in India.
I presented my views of unbanked Indians. At 41% of the population unbanked, it is a huge opportunity for Cryptocurrencies and emerging payment methods. I spoke of the viral growth of Bitcoin in the recent years and its inevitable entry into India.
I mentioned the paradigm shift across the planet, bringing forth new technologies in banking such as Dwolla, Carrier billers and even the cash based network in Pakistan got a mention. Mobile money is inevitable. It is safer, faster, cheaper and more pervasive than cash or cards.
I spun a few heads when I went through a checklist of Bitcoins features.
No POS required.
Over US $ 100mn in circulation in just 3 years
Instant Money Transfer
Powerful P2P network
Global Ledger Book
No Double Spending
I finished my bit by evangelizing the movement of even lower income individuals from feature phones to Smartphone’s. Bitcoin & Mobile are here to stay was my prediction.
Inspiring to hear that the RBI is open yet cautious. ‘RBI is the most progressive regulator in the world.’ was stated by all my co-panelists. I would most certainly want to see what they have in store for Bitcoin in the coming years.
Needless to say that Bitcoin is way ahead of its time in India. The traditional bankers were certainly not ready for Bitcoin, and the emerging Payment companies had a smile when they heard about it.
Our 3rd Meetup in Bangalore
We wound up our 3rd successful Meetup with 5 Bitcoiners last Thursday. We discussed easy ways to get merchants to adopt Bitcoin and several points of true value were discussed during our meeting. A few monetary systems were discussed post which, we were teased with the knowledge that a working INR – BTC exchange was around the corner.
Post the Meetup I received a mail from a friend in a neighboring state requesting me to represent his company at an Emerging Payments Summit in Bangalore. Due to a last minute shift in plans, the CEO of the progressive mPOS solution company called Mobilecozy was unable to make it to the event.
Laws about Bitcoin are in a gray area today across the world. I studied documents from the Reserve Bank of India’s public repository surrounding Virtual currencies and prepaid solutions. I happened to study two documents about Prepaid Payment and Foreign Exchange Management Rules, 2000.
Why research Prepaid Payment rules?
A person may come across the need to purchase them through Fiat Currencies (INR, USD, GBP, etc). Purchasing any e-currency and loading to an eWallet is regulated by the RBI. Although Bitcoin is in no way related to this, I wanted to see how close I could get to any laws that could present a roadblock.
Is Bitcoin Regulated in India?
The RBI regulation on Prepaid Payment Instruments in India defines a lot of areas. After understanding the documents of RBI’s guidelines and Rules, this is where I could find the only roadblock based on regulation.
3.2 Only banks which have been permitted to provide Mobile Banking Transactions by the Reserve Bank of India shall be permitted to launch mobile based prepaid payment instruments (mobile wallets & mobile accounts).”
In order to enter into the market; fiat is needed to purchase Bitcoin. Fiat will fade away as more people adopt Bitcoin. Until that frictionless free flow between consumers and merchants is made possible, this is a problem area for Bitcoins entry into India.
It can be overcome through:
Donations and sponsorships. There are enough Smartphones to cause this market to explode in any sponsor’s favor.
Sell Services and goods for Bitcoin. Programming Skills, etc.
Mining is too expensive at this stage, unless you have the latest and best equipment. Electricity is not expensive in India.
If we keep fiat out of the system, then Bitcoin is unregulated in India.
I spent some time on the Foreign Exchange Management Act, but it is entirely out of the scope of Bitcoin. As it is a decentralized currency, it can be considered to be a domestic currency since it is being mined in India. This leaves it out of the scope of Foreign Exchange.
Even if, IP’s can be tracked when Bitcoin is used for Foreign Exchange, they can be easily anonymized through the Tor Wallet. Since it is a true P2P (Peer to Peer/ Person to Person) currency, it is impossible to regulate in a population using Bitcoin as a token of value to trade. The logistics to monitor a mass population is not feasable.