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 ant disclosure requirement about the income earned 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.5 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'6 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.1Therefore, 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 that 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.