Those who possess bitcoins in India feel the government’s drive against black money will help the paperless, bank-less, and state-less currency gain ground.
Queries for bitcoins have gone up by 20% to 30% in the past couple of days, according to ZebPay, the largest trader of the digital currency in the country, which is adding 25,000 new bitcoin customers every month.
ZebPay already has 200,000 of the 400,000 odd bitcoin owners in the country. “People who never talked about bitcoins called me. Financial companies also want to invest in bitcoins ... that’s a big change in a country where bitcoins have not taken off,” said Saurabh Agrawal, CEO of the company.
Bitcoins are a digital currency, made by computers, whose prices are validated through a public ledger. Many in the US, UK and China invest in bitcoins to hedge against the share market risk. This money can, like any digital money, be used to pay for goods and services, such as buying coffee, a meal at a restaurant or even clothes.
Though not many merchants are accepting bitcoins in India, wallet holders (like a ZebPay customer) can buy Amazon or MakeMyTrip vouchers, or pay bills with the money.
In Unocoin, 2,000 merchants and vendors are accepting bitcoins. Sapna Book House, India’s largest bookstore chain before Amazon set up shop here, also accepts bitcoins. “People are getting remittances in bitcoins, instead of Paypal. They are able to liquidate them by paying just 1% transaction fee,” said Sathvik Vishwanath, CEO and co-founder, Unocoin.
He is also coming out with point-of-sale app to accept bitcoins. However, few are making transactions with the new form of digital money. “People are just buying it and holding on to it … if they want to sell, they deposit the coins in their Unocoin wallet, and the money is transferred to their bank account in two hours,” said Vishwanath.
As queries from India grew, the prices surged – bitcoins were 8% costlier than in the US. That is also because not many are developed in India. The market is also small – India does business of ₹5 crore every day (China ₹10,000 crore, the US ₹2,000 crore).
Agrawal hopes there will now be a surge in demand. “Only when something like this happens (currency notes removed), the millennials think digital asset is the future.”