Amid all the celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the goods and services tax (GST), I would like to focus on the significant role played in the transition to the GST regime by officials at the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) – now known as the Central Board of Indirect Taxes (CBIC) – and its field formation team, technical staff at GST Network (GSTN), the system’s information technology backbone, and the community of chartered accountants.
In the run-up to the implementation of GST and immediately thereafter, the major task of the CBEC was to put the legal dispensations in place and educate its staff and the trade on various compliance requirements.
The CBEC issued a number of notifications, circulars, tweets, advertisements, press notes and replies to frequently asked questions. Whenever the GST Council approved any changes, the CBEC was quick to give legal force through notifications and necessary clarifications. Field formations were conducted via numerous seminars and interactive sessions to clear the doubts of the trade and give a suitable feedback to CBEC. By all accounts, the field formation teams guided the trade properly throughout the year to help it comply with the new tax laws.
When the refunds of exporters got stuck due to mismatches, the CBIC granted many relaxations that helped the field formation team clear substantial backlog.
The government rushed into GST although it knew that the GSTN was not ready to cope with the challenges of handling complexities of the laws and massive amount of data. Frequent changes in the laws needed re-writing the software every now and then. It is easy to make a change in law but a lot of effort goes into re-writing the codes. The technical staff at GSTN worked hard to cope with the changes and after initial glitches, it has slowly come to grips with the situation and facilitated easier on-line interface to taxpayers.
In the pre-GST days, very few chartered accountants used to practice on excise, customs, service tax and sales tax matters. Suddenly, most business entities looked up to them for necessary guidance on GST. The indirect taxes committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India came up with a number of seminars, training programmes, webcasts, e-learning tools, useful books, background materials, newsletters and certificate courses to help their members learn the nitty-gritties of the new GST laws and cope with demands of the trade.
Some senior chartered accountants gave their valuable time to prepare various representations to the government. They helped make the laws more precise and facilitated lectures at many places in the country with a view to disseminating information and impart knowledge to their juniors.
Last week, the Prime Minister talked of information technology replacing the inspector in the implementation of GST. The fact is that field formations of the CBIC took up the challenge and granted refunds to many exporters when GSTN could not process refund claims due to mismatches.
Also, the GST Council decided to suspend many provisions of the law when GSTN could not cope with the work load and complexities. In due course, the system will stabilise and everything from returns to refunds will be done online. But for now, we must recognise and appreciate the critical role that unsung heroes have played in implementating GST.