India ramping up work in the digital arena: Sitharaman

Ritu Jha-

India has been driving up its efforts in the areas of digital currency, digital universities, and digital health and has big plans for India’s 100th anniversary, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told in a speech in California.

“I am not making any shallow claim,” Sitharaman said, asserting that India has become a pioneer in fintech. She was speaking to more than 200 attendees, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders at the April 23 event held at the University of Silicon Andhra in Milpitas, California.

Sitharaman is on a five days visit to Silicon Valley, along with Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

She has been in the US with Shaktikanta Das, the governor of the Indian Reserve Bank, since April 18, among other things, to attend the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and G20 finance ministers. She raised concerns about cryptocurrency at meetings with central bank governors of other countries, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and CEOs of US-based companies in Washington DC.

She told indica during a press conference that she was still uncertain about cryptocurrency.

“About regulations, we have not yet made up our mind,” Sitharaman told indica, adding that she has announced that the Indian central bank will issue a digital currency this year. India has already decided to impose 30 percent tax on cryptocurrency.

“Consultations are going on. We have neither banned [cryptocurrencies] nor have we regulated them. The process is on. Yes, they will be taxed because there are transactions happening. Some income is being earned, profits are being made, so we will tax them,” Sitharaman said.

Asked about the government measures to control digital money laundering, Sitharaman has said that any digital currency beyond what is backed by the Central Bank is not deemed to be money and that regulations would be set up to address money-laundering and related issues.

“But I certainly did mention it in the conversation that I had while being on a panel with Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund about concerns anyone will have about crypto assets. What we are trying to do is to do the consultation and take a call on how to handle it, ban it or regulate it. You will know when I come up with the decision.”

Sitharaman said many countries are looking at India’s achievements to use as stepping stones to digitize their own economies. Nine countries use some cryptocurrencies and crypto-assets but many are looking at having central bank-driven currency.

“We are also looking at how to regulate the crypto transactions happening outside of the currency,” she said. India is setting up 75 digital banks in 75 districts to encourage digital payments and these banks will be working under the brick-and-mortar banks.

The minister also shared about India getting into the area of digital universities.

She said globally renowned universities could set up offices in India in GIFT Cities.

To aid all this, Sitharaman said, “5G will be rolled out this year in our country, and optical fiber are going too far-flung [places]. No part of the country is denied internet access.”