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NEW DELHI : Nischal Shetty, chief executive officer of WazirX, started the #IndiaWantsCrypto campaign in November 2018, just a few months after the Reserve Bank of India barred banks from providing services to the crypto industry in April 2018. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) subsequently approached the Supreme Court of India for a stay order in May, but Shetty realized that the case wasn’t going to be enough, as he believed that the root problem was the lack of crypto regulation and the understanding what the crypto is. So, to solve these two issues, he decided to tweet every day and tag Indian leaders, highlighting why the country needs to regulate and understand crypto.

In an interview, Shetty spoke about the #IndiaWantsCrypto campaign, which completed 1,000 days on 28 July, key challenges that the industry faced during the past three years, and what the campaign would aim to achieve in its next 1,000 days. Edited excerpts:

What was the general mood in the crypto industry when you started this campaign?

The situation was pretty bad. WazirX was new (founded in March 2018), but there were other exchanges, which were older and larger. Multiple exchanges shut down, and some left the country as they could not operate in the country. Many people in crypto back then were really worried and afraid about the state of the crypto ecosystem and the future of investments that they had made. The mood, in general, was low, and there was fear among people. In fact, the general consensus was that crypto was illegal in India, and even owning crypto was not allowed. Also, the fact that crypto was in a bear market in 2018 didn’t help either.

2018 was really bad for the Indian crypto industry, and people thought of exiting at that point in time. But campaigns like #IndiaWantsCrypto kept people motivated.

The campaign has run for nearly three years. What were the big struggles during this phase?

Crypto has always been a challenging sector because of the lack of regulatory clarity. Right from the banking ban in 2018 to the draft bill in 2019 that talked of regulations, which were more about prohibiting than regulating. Then we had a bear market of around 2-2.5 years during 2018 and 2019, the investors were demotivated, and we were not getting enough money from global venture capitalists or funds to build startups. On top of this, there was confusion about whether crypto is legal or what the government was going to do — support it or shut down the industry.

Has the perception of regulators and the government changed during this period?

Things have changed tremendously. First of all, growth-wise, the Indian crypto industry has grown from four-five million people in 2018 to 15-20 million investors now. Second, from a handful of startups, a lot of companies are now working in the crypto sector. Moreover, today startups can easily attract investments.

From the regulators’ side, we have the finance minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) who has spoken about crypto, and now the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) talked about the central bank digital currency (CBDC).

There is also a greater understanding of crypto and the industry among the media in the country. Net-net, if you see from 2018 to today, India has progressed greatly in terms of every metric that you can track in crypto.

Has it become easier to run a crypto business in India?

Yes, it has because easier, but if you compare it with the rest of the world, it is still harder. In the US, you have companies that are able to use the initial public offer (IPO) route. They have some sort of licensing process in place and have clarity. It is the same in many parts of the world.

To catch up with the rest of the world, we first must have banking access. Even though the Supreme Court case was won, banking access is still hard to come by for all businesses. There is still fear and uncertainty among the banks, and they are not really sure about servicing the industry. Second, we need some guidelines from the government or more direction. We know that the government has been talking about bringing in regulations, however, they may take longer, but guidelines can come faster.

Have you replied to the Enforcement Directorate notice to WazirX for Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violations?

We have cooperated with the agency in the investigation so far and are preparing a response to the detailed notice we have received on FEMA violations.

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