The GST Network (GSTN) is the IT backbone of the Goods and Services Tax regime. Though the system faced a lot of flak initially, with people finding it difficult to file returns, things appear to be settling down with the number of assessees on the rise, and fewer or no complaints of technical glitches. BusinessLine spoke to Prakash Kumar, GSTN’s Chief Executive, for his perspective on one year of GST and the plan for the years ahead. Excerpts:
On one year of GST
It was very challenging, and also exciting. We were faced with paucity of time; too many things to deliver; the targets, too, kept changing. But the good part is, we have been able to deliver. Yes, there were shortcomings, but those were also taken care of. With the support of the GST Council and all the Central and State officers, we have been able to put in place something that works, something that a large number of taxpayers are using, a large number of returns are filed.
On GSTN’s progress from being a private limited company to a government-owned company
Presently, 51 per cent of GSTN is owned by five private sector entities and they can nominate three directors. The Central government owns 24.5 per cent equity, and they nominate three directors. The States also own another 24.5 per cent of GSTN, and they, too, nominate three directors. It means six directors are nominated by the government, and no decision can be taken unless and until the government directors concur.
The second aspect is the procurement. We have been following GFR, which is Government Financial Rules, right from Day 1.
The third on the list is the audit: we have been audited by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) from the beginning. Then fourth aspect is RTI (Right to Information). Though we are not supposed to be under [the ambit of the] RTI, but since we are doing things of public purpose, we have kept ourselves under the RTI from the beginning.
So, for us, [when GSTN becomes a government company] only the ownership changes, and we will have only government directors. Today, we have three private sector representatives, who will not be there.
On technical capacity
We designed the system for 1.3 crore users — twice the 65-lakh number that the government asked us to. Also, the design is such that you can put in more infrastructure without changing the software.
On one particular day, 18.5 lakh returns were filed and 8 lakh payment transactions were done. Even then, our server utilisation was just 27 per cent. So, capacity-wise, we don’t face problems.
But when everyone tries to transact in a one-hour window, there is problem. So we have a circuit-breaker. In the beginning, we allowed 80,000 [users at one go]. We then increased it to 1 lakh concurrent users, and then to 1.1 lakh. We now have to increase it to 1.3 lakh to ensure that the experience of those who are already logged in does not deteriorate. So the assessee numbered 1.3001 lakh, will have to wait for few seconds. She gets a message asking her to “kindly wait”. She comes in when someone goes out. We also have offline tools. This will facilitate more number of people to get in and get out. It means the number of people filing returns will increase.
On an anniversary gift for the assesses
Rather than wait for the first anniversary, we have been implementing suggestions from the assessees. Take the form 3B. Initially, it was lacking in lots of facilities; today we have made it a question-based return. For example, almost a fourth file ‘Nil’ returns; they don’t need to go through the entire process. The first question we ask is: “Do you want to file a ‘NIL’ return”. If she says ‘Yes’, she is taken straight to the very last point. There are different dialogue boxes and only those open which assesses tick.
Another thing we have introduced is the mechanism of the error code. It is not sufficient to say that ‘some’ error has occurred. Rather, we should be specific, and based on that some suggestions can be given to the assessee. But this can’t be done in all the cases. However, if an assessee dials the call centre, asking about particular error code, he will get an answer accordingly.
On the e-Way bill
Ten crore e-Way bills [have been generated] in two months and 21 days and it is still showing an upward trend. The new system started with a daily generation of 8 lakh e-Way bills, while now more than 20 lakh can be generated. Whatever suggestions have come from tax-payers, we have implemented them. Just like the GST Council has been responsive, we, too, have tried to be responsive.