July 08, 2022
Taxation of Crypto-assets
Emerging regime for Virtual Digital Assets (VDAs)
The Income-tax Act, 1961 (“ITA”) did not contain any specific provisions for taxation of virtual digital assets (“VDA”) until the Finance Act, 2022 (“FA 2022”) (coming into effect from April 1, 2022). The Finance Act, 2022 has introduced the much-awaited taxation regime for VDAs in India. Specifically, FA 2022 introduced the following:
Our in-depth analysis of the above-mentioned provisions at the time of their proposal through the Finance Bill of 2022, can be found here. Since then, certain changes were brought about in the provisions of the Finance Bill, through FA 2022, and more recently, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (“CBDT”), and the Ministry of Finance (“MoF”) released a set of circulars and notifications to clarify the operability of the withholding provisions, the procedure for compliance, clarification on scope of VDAs etc.
In this hotline, we discuss and analyze the circulars/ notifications issued by CBDT.
1. Withholding on VDA transactions through Exchange [Circular No 13 of 2022] (“Circular 1”):
Section 194S of the ITA obligates any ‘person responsible for paying’ to a resident any sum by way of consideration for transfer of a VDA to withhold tax at the rate of 1% at the time of payment or credit, to the account of the resident, whichever is earlier. Section 204 of the ITA defines the person responsible for paying to mean (i) in case of residents, the payer of the sum (or principal officer, in case of a company) and (ii) in case of non-residents, the person himself or any person authorized by the non-resident. In Uber India Systems (P.) Ltd.1, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (“ITAT”) highlighted the distinction between payer and remitter and held that Uber India Systems Private Limited was not the payer, and consequently not the person responsible for paying.
Given the above, in case where an intermediary (like a cryptocurrency exchange) is facilitating transfer of VDAs on its platform, it was not clear whether such intermediary could be held liable to withhold tax under section 194S.2 To remove such ambiguities, Circular 1 clarifies who would be liable to withhold tax under section 194S in case where VDA transactions take place through an Exchange3 or Broker4 (as defined therein).
The table below summarizes the clarification provided by Circular 1 with respect to the person responsible for withholding tax under section 194S.
Circular 1 also clarifies that in case of transactions where consideration for transfer of VDA is paid in exchange of another VDA, the Exchange would be required to withhold tax on both legs of the transaction. The buyer and seller would not be independently required to follow the procedure provided in proviso to section 194S(1).
It is important to note that Circular 1 has been issued under section 194S(6) read with section 194S(7) of the ITA. Therefore, Circular 1 is binding on the tax authorities and the person responsible for paying.
Our comments: The clarification provided by Circular 1 puts an end to confusion and extent of Exchange’s liability to comply with section 194S. Circular 1 defines Exchanges for the first time with respect to the ITA. Given the different type of models, the definition of Exchange should provide clarity to market participants regarding obligation to withhold tax under section 194S. The compliance burden has been shifted from the users to the Exchange in most cases. Circular 1 also seems to have nailed several practical issues faced by the industry and provide feasible solutions. For example, it recognizes that there may be situations wherein tax deducted in kind may need to be converted into cash for depositing to the Government. In this regard, Circular 1 provides mechanism for tax deducted in kind into cash. The mechanism provided by Circular 1 is likely to increase the compliance burden on the Exchanges (with the Exchanges required to maintain trail of transactions, time stamping of order etc.). Further, the mechanism for accumulation of tax deducted in form of primary VDAs till end of the day and conversion into cash at midnight may provide opportunities to participants to engage in price play. This will need to be carefully monitored by Exchanges as well. In a welcome move, Circular 1 has also clarified that there will be no further withholding on conversion of tax withheld in kind into INR.
2. Withholding on transactions not covered under Circular 1 [Circular No 14 of 2022] (“Circular 2”):
Circular 2 (except question 6) is applicable on all transactions not covered by Circular 1 i.e. transactions in relation to transfer of VDA not on or through an Exchange. Circular 2 inter-alia clarifies the liability to withhold tax in the following situations:
Without going into the merits of whether VDA is a good or not, Circular 2 also clarifies that once tax is deducted under section 194S, tax would not be required to be deducted under section 194 Q (withholding on purchase of goods).
Our comments: At the outset, it is important to note that unlike the guidelines issued Circular 1, Circular 2 has been issued under section 119 of the ITA. Therefore, while Circular 1 is binding on the tax authorities and the person responsible for paying, it may be possible to argue that Circular 2 is binding only on the tax authorities, and not on the taxpayers.5 Having said this, it is not clear why Circular 2 was also not issued under section 194S(6).
As discussed above, Circular 2 is applicable only on transactions not falling in the ambit of Circular 1. Therefore, in cases where VDA transactions are not happening through an Exchange, withholding under section 194S should be done in accordance with Circular 2. Further, while Circular 2 clarifies that tax base for withholding will be reduced by GST, applicability of GST on VDAs is not clear. There have been news reports suggesting that Indian government is working on characterization of crypto-assets for the purpose of GST laws.6
3. Other Clarificatory Updates:
The CBDT also issued 2 other notifications, shedding further colour to the tax regime of VDA:
The aforesaid clarifications, though last minute, have been welcomed by the industry participants. Several crypt-exchanges have implemented procedures to give effect and operationalize withholding from July 1, 2022. While the clarifications are technically applicable on foreign exchanges as well, foreign exchanges are likely to face more challenges in operationalizing withholding mechanism.
Having said this, the tax regime for VDAs is likely to evolve further in future. There are a number of open issues which continue to remain present. Currently, there are no guidelines on valuation of VDAs. This will be essential for determining tax base from income-tax and GST perspective. Valuation of VDAs may be particularly challenging given the volatility of the crypto-market. Lastly, the decision with respect to applicability of GST on VDAs may define the course of this industry in India.
You can direct your queries or comments to the authors
1 Uber India Systems (P.) Ltd. vs. Joint Commissioner of Income Tax,  125 taxmann.com 185 (Mumbai - Trib.)
3 ‘Exchange’ means any person that operates an application or platform for transferring of VDAs, which matches buy and sell trades and executes the same on its application or platform. The definition is wide enough to cover both models of exchanges typically seen in the marketplace
4 Broker” means any person that operates an application or platform for transferring of VDAs and holds brokerage account/accounts with an Exchange for execution of such trades
5 See Navnit Lal C. Javeri vs. K.K. Sen, Appellate Assistant Commissioner of Income-tax,  56 ITR 198 (SC), Catholic Syrian Bank Ltd. vs. Commissioner of Income-tax  343 ITR 270 (SC) etc.
cryptocurrency-under-gst-law/articleshow/90333798.cms (last accessed on June 08, 2022).
The contents of this hotline should not be construed as legal opinion. View detailed disclaimer.