The e-way bill of the goods and services tax (GST) might have been put on the backburner after initial hiccups, but transporters in Gujarat are still wary of taking on dispatches. Of the 400 trucks that carry textiles from Surat every day, only 15-20 moved on Saturday. “Most of them (transporters) are scared of being harassed by field officers,” said Yuvraj Desale, president, Surat Textile Goods Transport Association. The textile industry alone faced losses to the tune of Rs 750-850 million on Thursday — the day the e-way bill was launched, and then withdrawn. Gujarat had introduced the e-way bill process for only 19 out of 2,350 commodities — to test it out. Like the rest of the country, it too encountered technical glitches. On Thursday, the e-way bill portal stopped functioning around noon. Late in the night, the government tweeted that the trial phase would be extended, for both inter- and intra-state transport of goods. The date for the reintroduction of the e-way bill will be announced soon. “It’s not always in our hands,” Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia said, adding that the government suspended the e-way bill as it did not want businesses to suffer due to delays caused by technical glitches. He said, “On day one, a lot of people tried to log in. We found some technical glitches and the system became quite slow. The e-way bill should be generated within a minute.” The finance secretary said the e-way bill will be reintroduced in a week or so. The movement of goods and services was severely affected, not only in Gujarat, but across the country, sparking a blame game.
Officials said the glitches were caused by problems in the National Informatics Centre’s server; industry, however, blamed the haste with which the government had rolled out the e-way bill.“The government did not anticipate so much traffic. Also, there were several last-minute notifications, leading to confusion,” said a senior tax consultant, adding that it might now return on February 21. In West Bengal, the leather industry — that exports goods worth Rs 164 million — was the worst hit, deferring its purchase of raw and tanned leather, said Ramesh Juneja, chairman (east), Council for Leather Exports. Even the gems and jewellery sector in the state, left out of the e-way bill’s ambit, suffered. “The state government issues a way bill for gold and precious stones. It suspended the bill on February 1, when the e-way bill was introduced,” said Bacchraj Bamalwa, a former chairman of the All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation. “Now, with even the e-way bill withdrawn temporarily, the movement of gold and precious gems has been halted,” he added. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, inter-state consignments were stuck in godowns of traders, prompting an exporter to complain that the government was not ready to implement it. Another trader said it took him six hours to generate an e-way bill. Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry President N Jagatheesan said most assessees were still clueless about all provisions of the e-way bill. The Telangana government has been upbeat about the e-way bill. Being a consumption state, it had registered a growth rate of 18 per cent, year on year, in value-added tax (VAT) receipts. The authorities are hopeful of sustaining this performance under the GST as well. Said the State GST Additional Commissioner M Satyanarayana Reddy, “It is a matter of a few days before the e-way bill system is restored.” But glitches have severely affected traders. “One of my clients was stuck for hours at a checking point for an e-way bill. He was let off at around 7.15 pm, after the news was communicated to the officials,” a GST consultant said. Federation of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s GST committee Chairman Abhay Jain said there was no need for a separate e-way bill, as the authorities can always verify tax compliance by checking invoices of goods. “The e-way bill should be deferred for at least six months,” he added. “Business has stabilised now since the introduction of the GST. People are busy with year-end paperwork.” An official who has worked with the pilot project for e-way bills in Karnataka said they did not really know the traffic load on the server. “Whatever assessment we do are estimates. Only when people start uploading e-way bills will we know the real picture. The traffic on the site has been huge. The system should normalise in a few days,” he said.
Inputs from Dilasha Seth, Vinay Umarji, Avishek Rakshit, T E Narasimhan, Dasarath Reddy, and Raghu Krishnan