The reintroduction of the e-way bill system, which is a crucial part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, from April 1 has been smooth. It had to be aborted and put off twice after the hurried launch of the GST system in July last year because the software infrastructure that supported it was not equipped to cope with the huge rush of business traffic then. The portal, GST Network (GSTN), has now been strengthened and it can handle up to 75 lakh e-way bills. The load in the first few days was only a few lakhs but this is set to increase. No glitch has been reported till now and the system has probably stabilised. An e-way bill is an electronic documentation that tracks the movement of goods and services across and within state borders. They are required when goods above Rs 50,000 in value are transported, and they make the flow of goods simple and consistent. The full impact of the GST system was not felt when the e-way bills were not in place. Even now, they have been introduced only at the inter-state level.
GST revenues have been volatile and short of expectation. While the target was Rs 1 lakh crore per month, the collections have not exceeded Rs 90,000 crore, though they have improved in recent months. E-way bills will help to plug leakages in the system. It is known that goods were being transported without payment of GST even after the launch of the new tax regime. This may not be possible now. But there are fears that the e-way bill requirement may be misused by officials and there may be a return to ‘inspector raj’. This can happen if trucks are routinely stopped to physically check if the consignment tallies with the e-way bill. The GST system was meant to avert such delays.
E-way rules have been amended to deal with issues that came up during the implementation and on the basis of genuine complaints and requests made by trade and industry. They may need to be modified and improved again. To get the full benefit of the GST system, e-way bills have to be used for both interstate and intrastate movements. The GST Council has approved a deferred and staggered rollout of e-way bills for the intra-state level. Only Karnataka has been able to operationalise the system at the intra-state level with the help of the IT expertise available in the state. Other states must implement the system as per the schedule which has been agreed upon.