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Indian Economy

Proposed Digital Rupee

  • 10 Oct 2022
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: Reserve Bank of India (RBI), e-rupee, Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), virtual currency, Digital Payments.

For Mains: Significance of e-rupee & virtual currencies.

Why in News?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will soon commence limited pilot launches of e-rupee (e`), or Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) or digital rupee, for specific use cases.

  • It has hinted at two broad categories for the use of e-rupee — retail and wholesale — for various transactions.

What is e-rupee?

  • Definition: RBI defines the CBDC as the digital form of currency notes issued by a central bank. It is a sovereign or entirely independent currency issued by the central bank (in this case, RBI), in accordance with the country’s monetary policy.
  • Legal Tender: Once officially issued, CBDC will be considered as a medium of payment and legal tender by all three parties - citizens, government bodies, and enterprises. Being government-recognised, it can be freely converted to any commercial bank’s money or notes.
    • RBI is not in favour of e-rupee with interest. Because people might withdraw money from banks and convert it to digital rupee - causing banks to fail.
  • Difference with Cryptocurrencies: The underlying technology of cryptocurrency (distributed ledger) can underpin parts of the digital rupee system, but the RBI has not decided on this, yet. However, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ethereum are ‘private’ in nature. Digital rupee on the other hand, will be issued and controlled by the RBI.
  • Global Scenario: As of July 2022, 105 countries were exploring CBDC. Ten countries have launched CBDC, the first of which was the Bahamian Sand Dollar in 2020 and the latest was Jamaica’s JAM-DEX.

What is RBI's Plan for CBDC?

  • Types of CBDC: On the basis of usage and the functions performed by the digital rupee and considering the different levels of accessibility, CBDC can be demarcated into two broad categories — general purpose (retail) (CBDC-R) and wholesale (CBDC-W).
    • Retail CBDC is an electronic version of cash primarily meant for retail transactions. It will be used by all — private sector, non-financial consumers and businesses. However, the RBI has not explained how e-rupee can be used in merchant transactions in the retail trade.
    • Wholesale CBDC is designed for restricted access to select financial institutions. It has the potential to transform the settlement systems for financial transactions undertaken by banks into government securities (G-Sec) segment, inter-bank market and capital market more efficiently and securely in terms of operational costs, use of collateral and liquidity management.
  • Structure:
    • A token based CBDC would be a bearer instrument like banknotes, the person receiving a token will verify that his ownership of the token is genuine. A token-based CBDC is viewed as a preferred mode for CBDC-R as it would be closer to physical cash.
    • An account-based system would require maintenance of records of balances and transactions of all holders of the CBDC and indicate the ownership of the monetary balances. In this case, an intermediary will verify the identity of an account holder. This system can be considered for CBDC-W.
  • Available in online and offline mode: The offline functionality as an option will allow CBDC to be transacted without the internet and thus enable access in regions with poor or no internet connectivity.
    • However, the RBI feels in the offline mode, the risk of ‘double-spending’ will exist because it will be technically possible to use a CBDC unit more than once without updating the common ledger of CBDC.
  • Model for Issuance:
    • In the direct model, the central bank will be responsible for managing all aspects of the digital rupee system such as issuance, account-keeping and transaction verification.
    • An indirect model would be one where the central bank and other intermediaries (banks and any other service providers), each play their respective role. The central bank will issue CBDC to consumers indirectly through intermediaries and any claim by consumers will be managed by the intermediary.

What are the advantages of e-rupee?

  • Reduction in operational costs involved in physical cash management, fostering financial inclusion, bringing resilience, efficiency and innovation in the payments system.
  • Provide the public with uses that any private virtual currencies can provide, without the associated risks.

What are the issues related to CBDC in India?

  • Cyber Security: CBDC ecosystems may be at a similar risk of cyber-attacks that the current payment systems are exposed to.
  • Privacy issue: The CBDC is expected to generate huge sets of data in real time. Privacy of the Data, concerns related to its anonymity and its effective use will be a challenge.
  • Digital divide and financial illiteracy: The NFHS-5 also provides data segregation based on the rural-urban divide. Only 48.7% of rural males and 24.6% of the rural females have ever used the internet. So, CBDC may wide gender-based hurdle in financial inclusion along with digital divide.

Way Forward

  • Technical clarity must be ensured to decide on the underlying technologies that can be trusted to be safe and stable.
  • To make CBDC a successful initiative and movement, RBI must address the demand side infrastructure and knowledge gap to increase its acceptance in rural areas for wide base.
  • The RBI must proceed cautiously, remaining mindful of the various issues, the design considerations and the implications surrounding the introduction of the digital currency.


UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Question


Q. What is Cryptocurrency? How does it affect global society? Has it been affecting Indian society also?

Source: IE

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