This time around, the Centre should ensure it enables seamless flow of goods, and not a return to inspector raj
E-way bills are once again supposed to come into effect from April 1, after the botched effort to get started with inter-State transactions on budget day. Hopefully, the software backbone will be better equipped to handle the crush of businesspersons.
E-way bills — a document opened by the consignor, consignee, and in some cases, the transporter, to accompany the transportation of goods in excess of ₹50,000 — are meant to ensure consistency and simplicity in documentation and seamless movement of goods within the country.
The e-way bill amount should match the entry in the GST returns. E-way bills will be reintroduced for inter-State transactions to begin with; intra-State transactions may be brought into the ambit from June 1, although Karnataka has implemented it already.
However, industry is apprehensive that with GST collections falling short of the monthly norm of over ₹1-lakh crore in 2017-18 (actuals have averaged ₹85,000-90,000 crore a month), the e-way bill may turn into a revenue-raising measure in 2018-19.
In effect, this could lead to viewing every moving truck with suspicion. With invoice matching not having taken off in the GST portal, the e-way bill may emerge as an alternative way to verify tax credit claims.
The tax authorities must guard against the temptation to squeeze out that extra drop of tax from businesses. The original objective — of replacing checkpost hold-ups, dubious paperwork and greasing of palms with a transparent and efficient system — should not be lost sight of.
The e-way bill rules have been rightly modified this time round, following representations from industry. For instance, the value of goods exempt from GST will not be considered in calculating consignment value. It has now been clarified that the value of ₹50,000 will apply to a single consignment and not to an assortment of goods from different parties. The minimum distance allowed for movement of goods without the requirement of an e-way bill, such as between, say, a consignor’s godown to the transporter within a State, has been increased from 10 km to 50 km. E-commerce agencies can generate e-way bills after being authorised by the consignor to do so. Empty containers will not require e-way bills.
However, it remains to be seen how the system actually works, when goods are moved from one vehicle to another while in transit. In the event of an e-way bill lapsing if a vehicle breaks down in transit, there could be documentation challenges. The law does not focus on abandoned vehicles as goods are shifted — they could head anywhere, carrying goods no one knows about.
The e-way system is laudable but is not designed to check outright highway robbery. These issues should be sorted out so that large-scale theft is contained and bonafide businesses are spared.