The popular impression that Indian authorities are supposedly enforcing an imminent ban on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could just be a bad case of fake news.

Delivering his country’s budget for 2018-19, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley briefly touched on the subject of cryptocurrencies and their usage in the nation that could soon topple China as the most populous on earth.

He said: “The Government does not consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate the use of these crypto assets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payments system.”

The immediate aftermath of Jaitley’s remark sparked a torrent of sensational, and potentially erroneous reporting from India’s national press and mainstream media outlets about the Indian government outlawing and banning cryptocurrencies.

“Arun Jaitley has just killed India’s cryptocurrency party,” was the splash headline on Quartz India, one of the earliest mainstream publications to report on the statement.

But look at the minister’s words more closely, and they are more measured than they have widely been interpreted to be. In summary:

  • Indian authorities do not recognize Bitcoin as legal tender
  • They will crackdown on cryptocurrency usage in illegitimate activities
  • They will urge the public not to use cryptocurrency as a payment instruments

Jaitley did not make any pointed remark on a ban, nor signal a clampdown on exchanges. Furthermore, India’s tax authorities are, in fact, using the help of cryptocurrency exchanges to chase tax evaders.

In an interview with Indian state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan following his national budget delivery, Jaitley was explicitly asked if the government was moving to ban cryptocurrencies.

He said: “We are discouraging people from using it now. There is a government committee that’s looking into it right now and they will announce their decisions and next steps after they are done.”

India’s mainstream media has past history for false reporting on cryptocurrencies and their legality in the country. In March 2017, a number of major Indian media sources incorrectly reported Bitcoin had been classified “illegal”.

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