Facebook had yesterday unveiled its ambitious blockchain-based currency Libra, which was meant to facilitate cross border transactions, and bring banking services to those who still hadn’t been reached by traditional banks. But it appears that it won’t be launching in one of the markets where it might have been most useful.
Facebook’s Calibra wallet won’t be launching in India, a company spokesperson told Techcrunch. “The Libra Blockchain will be global, but it will be up to custodial wallet providers to determine where they will and will not operate. Calibra won’t be available in U.S.-sanctioned countries or countries that ban cryptocurrencies,” the spokesperson said.
The Indian government in the past been wary of cryptocurrencies, and has attempted to curtailed their use. The Finance Minsitry had even issued a public notice dissuading people from investing in crypto assets. “The Virtual Currencies don’t have any intrinsic value and are not backed by any kind of assets. The price of bitcoin and other VCs is therefore entirely a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices,” it had said. There had been raids carried out on cryptocurrency exchanges last year, and the RBI had eventually banned Indian banks from working with crypto exchnages. This meant that users were made unable to transfer their rupees into crypto assets, thus essentially killing the entire industry.
With the Calibra wallet not launching in India, users will have nowhere to complete their KYCs to be able to buy and sell Libra, which could effectively mean that the entire currency might never be available for Indian users. There had been indications to this effect — Facebook’s Libra launch video had shown users from various countries including Philippines and Mexico transacting in the new currency, but had no scenes shot in India, and had no Indian actors either. And with a company spokesperson saying that Calibra will not launch in India, the excitement that many in the Indian startup community had around Libra has proven to be short-lived.
While the decision might disappoint India’s tech entrepreneurs, it will also limit the usefulness of Libra. India is Facebook’s largest market, and is also home to lots of users who don’t regularly use traditional banking. Had Libra launched in India, it would’ve given users a new method, among many others available, to send money to people within the country, and more importantly, a new competitor for PayPal to be able to send and receive money from abroad. But the RBI appears to be conservative in its outlook, and perhaps with good reason — lots of Indians have lost money in cryptocurrency scams. And as things stand, it appears Facebook’s revolutionary currency might never end up on Indian shores.