The crash of the e-way bill system on the day of its launch was a disaster waiting to happen because sufficient trials were not carried out, say transporters and courier services on the crucial link required to transport goods in the country under the new Goods and Services Tax regime. "The system crashed along expected lines. Nobody was able to generate an e-way bill. Lakhs of trucks across the country were stranded on Thursday till the evening," said All India Motor Transport Congress core committee chairman Bal Malkit Singh.
The e-way bill system, a method to track the movement of goods worth over Rs 50,000, was rolled out on Thursday after 15 days of trials. However, as soon as it was launched, the system crashed under the load of 2-3 lakh e-way bills generated in an hour, forcing the government to defer its implementation. This left the government red-faced as officials had said the system was equipped to handle the expected load of 5-6 lakh inter-state e-way bills a day.
With the government putting off the rollout for the inter-state system, goods are being moved across the country without an e-way bill, paving the way for easy tax evasion. "A GST regime without an eway bill system is impotent," said SP Singh, senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training. He said trials should have started before the unified indirect tax regime's rollout on July 1. "It was postponed to October because the system was not ready. Even after pushing it further to February, the site has crashed." Massive tax evasion has been going on till January 31, he added.
The electronic bill has to be generated by transporters on the GSTN, the technology backbone of the GST. The system was developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and its implementation is being handled by the GSTN, which also faced criticism when the system it developed for the GST crashed multiple times close on the heels of the unified tax regime's rollout. "We requested the government long ago to ensure enough time to test the system. We wrote to the GSTN many times that eway bill load would be very high. In cases of express service like ours, we have high volumes of small value shipments," said Express Industry Council of India (EICI) COO Vijay Kumar.
EICI told NIC in January-end about the problems that could arise from faulty implementation, he added. "But NIC went ahead with it anyway. Our hope is that before they go live next time that they will ensure they have the capacity to handle the high volume of eway bills," Kumar lamented. He said the first day of the rollout was a disaster as a lot of shipments could not be moved. "The logjam on the first day has negatively affected businesses, although it is difficult to quantify the exact loss. Even though the government has deferred the implementation, the message may not have reached all the officials on the ground. This leads to confusion among transporters, suppliers and consumers," said Jaspal Singh, partner at transport consultancy firm Valoriser.
GST Council decided to advance the implementation of the e-way bill, expecting it to check GST evasion and put to rest the worries of different states that they were losing out on GST revenues. GST collections picked up momentum in December to touch the Rs 86,703 crore mark, reversing the decline over the preceding two months. Total GST collections in November had slipped for the second straight month to Rs 80,808 crore, from over Rs 83,000 crore in October.
In September, the collections crossed Rs 92,150 crore. GSTN CEO Prakash Kumar said the government has extended the trial run for the system. Meanwhile, as many as 13 states voluntarily implemented intrastate e-way bill system on February 1, though the scheduled date for the rollout was June 1. Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia had said states which have notified e-way bill operations from February 1 will have to make required changes. However, confusion prevails over intra-state goods movement.
According to transporters, Gujarat has said it will start the e-way bill system from February 20 and Uttarakhand from February 10, while Karnataka has an operational e-way bill system. There is no clarity from the other states. Intrastate transport of goods accounts for 60-65 per cent of all goods transported in the country, while interstate contributes 35-40 per cent.
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