Transporters and courier services are waiting with bated breath to see if the e-way bill system will have a smooth rollout upon its relaunch on April 1, after the first attempt two months ago had to be suspended due to technical glitches.
Without the crucial system, necessary to track movement of goods worth over Rs 50,000 across states under the GST regime, rampant tax evasion could be going on unchecked, experts believe.
“Our concern, like last time, is that the system should be fully geared up to meet the industry’s requirements. The process should be smooth and quick,” said All India Motor Transport Congress core committee chairman Bal Malkit Singh.
The system’s launch was originally advanced from April 1 to February to curb tax evasion and boost GST revenues, which had declined for two months in a row by that point.
However, the February 1 launch left the government redfaced as the site crashed under the load of 2-3 lakh eway bills generated in an hour. Government officials had earlier claimed the system was equipped to handle the expected daily load of 5-6 lakh inter-state e-way bills a day.
This time, however, government said the GSTN portal has been beefed up to handle 75 lakh inter-state e-way bills a day.
“Inter-state constitutes only 40 per cent of the pie. During trial runs last week, 12.5 lakh e-way bills was the highest demand in a day. Even if you estimate a four-fold requirement, capacity to handle should not be a major hurdle,” said SP Singh, senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training.
Further, since April 1 is a Sunday, when the load on the roads is halved, it will not be a major test of capacity, he added.
“Apart from technical glitches, the process was hindered by procedural issues as well last time. Since the GST Council has addressed some of them, I am more confident about the rollout this time than I was last time,” said Express Industry Council of India (EICI) COO Vijay Kumar.
The GST Council, in its meeting in March first week, decided that an e-way bill won’t be needed when an individual consignment value is less than Rs. 50,000 even if the transporter is carrying goods of a total value of over Rs.50,000 in a single conveyance. The value of goods exempted from GST has also been excluded from value of the consignment for e-way bill generation.
Further, the government has been testing with our member firms the APIs that link our systems to the main portal. This was not the case last time, EICI’s Kumar said.
“After several postponements and trial runs, neither the GST authorities nor the stakeholders, have any excuse for not implementing the eway bill system,” said SP Singh.
While the government is yet to iron out many creases in the e-way bill system, stakeholders said, the biggest bump is the requirement of separate inter and intra state bills which defeat the purpose of ease of doing business. However, SP Singh, said the systems do not overlap and should not pose a problem.
The government has decided to roll out intrastate e-way bill system, required for moving goods within a state, in phases from April 15. A number of states like Uttar Pradesh and Kerala have already implemented it voluntarily. Intra-state movement of goods accounts for about 60 per cent of all movements in the country.
“The whole of April will have to be watched to get a real picture of the system’s implementation,” SP Singh added.
The government is banking on the introduction of e-way bills with effect from April 1, to give a fillip to GST collections which have slowed.
The decline in GST collections has been a cause for concern. The government was forced to seek Parliament’s approval on March 2 to spend an additional Rs 85,300 crore in the current financial year which ends on March 31.
The extra expenditure includes as much as Rs 62,700 crore for compensation to the state governments and union territories as collections from GST, introduced in July last year, have fallen short of expectations due to the chaotic launch.
GST collections declined for the second month in a row to Rs 85,174 crore in February as only 69 per cent of the taxpayers filed returns for the month, according to a finance ministry statement. The collection in January was Rs 86,318 crore, while in December and November it was Rs 88,929 crore and Rs 83,716 crore.