With a slew of reported glitches in the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN, the ministerial panel on the subject will meet on Saturday in Bengaluru to examine the information technology (IT) challenges plaguing the uniform tax regime.
The committee, chaired by Sushil Modi, deputy chief minister and finance minister of Bihar, was constituted earlier this week. It was a sequel to the GST Council's decision last week at Hyderabad, to oversee technical and operational issues pertaining to the IT infrastructure.
GSTN will give a presentation to the ministers of the work done, challenges and the strategy. The meeting will be attended by its officials and those of IT major Infosys.
"We will try to understand the IT infra issue from a 360-degree perspective. We will review the issues faced by traders and the challenges confronting GSTN. A strategy will be charted after the meeting," said a state finance minister, part of the five-member panel. New GSTN chairman A B Pandey will attend, as will its chief executive, Prakash Kumar.
The committee was constituted in the wake of complaints from businesses about the glitches in GSTN. Simultaneously, the timeline for filing of returns was extended. The system had crashed last Friday, September 8, two days before the earlier deadline to file detailed sales returns, after a flood of entities tried uploading of invoices. Close to 750,000 returns were filed on Saturday, just before the due date was extended to October 10.
Officials in the government argue that businesses deferring return filing till the last day is also a factor for the panic. "After the announcement of deadline extension, hardly anyone is filing their returns. People have stopped coming now. This mentality needs to change," said one.
Acknowledging the issue with the system, a finance ministry official said, "Once you start a large system, there will be issues. Forms were finalised in the last week and then there were modifications. Keeping that in mind, GSTN is a stable system but, unfortunately, the system didn't work on September 8."
The officials say too many forms, such as GSTR 3B, were introduced at the last minute. "GSTN is trying to do so many things at the same time. Officials are working till four in the morning in trying to fix issues," said one.
About 2.8 million GSTR-1 or detailed sales returns were filed by Saturday, the earlier deadline. This is about half the expected returns for the month of July. However, traffic on the GSTN portal on Saturday declined significantly from 80,000 users an hour to 17,000 an hour after finance minister Arun Jaitley announced the extension.
The deadline for filing of purchase returns or GSTR-2 and GSTR-3, the matching ones of GSTR-1 and GSTR-2 for July, have also been extended to October 31 and November 10, from September 25 and September 30, respectively. Jaitley had said the decision was taken after the portal got overloaded more than once.
"The extension will give time for taxpayers to get familiarised with the software. The software companies are still not ready. Most taxpayers are using our offline tool and not coming through the GST Suvidha Providers," said a GSTN official. Only 13 per cent of the returns filed so far are through the Suvidha Providers (GSPs). "These GSPs have all application programming interfaces (APIs) provided through them; yet, the numbers filing through them is so low," said a GSTN official.
Traders have been reporting issues related to invoice matching, claiming of transition credits via the Tran1 form, errors in making final submissions, uploading of returns and of invoices, among others.
The summarised return filing, GSTR-3B, earlier for a limited period of two months, July and August, has been extended to another four months, till December. About 77.7 per cent of the summarised returns have been filed for July. Punjab has filed 92.5 per cent of the expected summarised returns; West Bengal and Delhi have filed a little over 85 per cent. "It is happening on the same server and not in thin air," argued another official.
For GSTR-1, Punjab has filed 70 per cent of the expected returns for July.
Pratik Jain of consultants PwC India said the situation had improved but businesses were still facing difficulties. "At times, there is substantial delay in processing. Similarly, the utility for filing TRAN-2 (for claiming deemed credit) is still unavailable. The extension is a breather for companies struggling to file returns," he added.
"Filing peaks on the last few days. It is a new law, new technology, and people are taking time to understand. The extension given by the GST Council will help GSTN to ramp up its system and businesses to understand the issue. Businesses have multiple queries, such as how to report information under different sections of the GST returns, how to file for input tax credit, etc," said Archit Gupta, chief executive officer (CEO) at ClearTax.
"There are a lot of concerns and apprehensions among business owners as they make a switch to the GST system of filing," says Saket Aggarwal, global CEO, Spice Digital.