Gaining popularity, cryptocurrencies, particularly bitcoin — whose futures touched the $15,000-mark recently, before dipping again — is also being seen as a reason behind the surveys, but no official confirmed it on record. Clarifying that these were not raids and just surveys under section 133(A) of the I-T Act, a senior official said the objective was "gathering evidence to establish the identity of investors and traders, transactions undertaken by them, identity of the counterparties, related bank accounts used, etc".
The Bengaluru wing, under the Karnataka and Goa directorate of the department, led the operations across six major cities: Bengaluru, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata and Gurugram.
The surveys carried out under income tax laws began early in the morning. However, I-T officials said they were not income tax raids per se, and that action on probable tax evasions may happen if the teams find anything. "The surveys are being conducted to understand the kind of digital transactions being done in bitcoin exchanges, and to know the dynamics of the sector as such," another official said.
Sources said the sleuths gathered information about the identity and details of investors and traders of bitcoin, and their bank transactions. In November, the Supreme Court, while hearing a PIL on the need to regulate cryptocurrencies, issued notices to the RBI and the Centre, seeking their response on the matter. Since then, there have been reports about the RBI and Sebi preparing a policy document in this regard.
In India, a few restaurants, including in Mumbai and Bengaluru, and some businesses, have begun transacting in bitcoins. Just last week, a couple from Bengaluru accepted their wedding gifts in cryptocurrency and had announced that they would donate it to charity.
Besides, bitcoins have also become the most preferred ransom sought by cybercriminals, especially those causing ransomware attacks.
The Reserve Bank of India has cautioned users, holders and traders of virtual currencies, including bitcoins. In March, the Union finance ministry had constituted an Inter-Disciplinary Committee to take stock of the present status of VCs both in India and globally and suggest measures for dealing with such currencies.