One has to wait a bit longer to assess the robustness of the e-way bill portal. Just over 171,000 of these had been generated till 5 pm on Sunday, the first day of its mandatory nation-wide introduction for inter-state movement of goods worth over Rs 50,000 under the goods and services tax (GST) system.
The numbers were less than half of those generated on February 1, the earlier date of its roll-out, when the portal had crashed.
At the time, 480,000 bills were generated. At present, the portal — ewaybill.nic.in — has a capacity to handle 7.5 million bills a day.
Formally the electronic way bill for movement of goods, it is an invoice or delivery challan, generated only on the designated portal. Transport of goods more than Rs 50,000 in value in any vehicle cannot be made by a registered person without an e-way bill. It was mandatory even before Sunday in some states such as Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh (UP). From now on, the bill has to be generated on the national portal for inter-state movement. However, Karnataka continued with its earlier intra-state e-way bill requirement on the state portal. It is the only state to do so.
Said a readymade garment seller in Surat: “As it was mandatory in UP even before April 1, we used to generate it on the portal of that state’s commercial taxes department. Today, the logistics company sent back our consignment, saying only a bill generated from the central portal is valid.”
No major issues came up from any part of the country, said Prakash Kumar, chief executive of GST Network (GSTN), the system’s information technology backbone. Some businesses, he said, did have queries such as how to generate a user ID once this was lost.
However, transporters said some of their concerns were still unresolved. Vijay Rawal, president, Bombay Goods Transport Association, said only some of their concerns were addressed in the pre-implementation discussion.
“We are sending a detailed letter to the central government’s revenue department to get clarity on aspects that are still in the grey area,” he said.
He fears a situation in which Delhi (central government) becomes the only place to resolve disputes arising from e-way bills. “Truck drivers are not able to deal with tax authorities, since they do not know the rationale behind an e-way bill. They cannot even identify who is a government official and who isn’t,” he said.
An official said it would take a week or two for flying squads to get into regular operation, since the mechanism is not fully final.
S P Singh, senior fellow with the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, said despatches were very low on Sunday. “In most cities, goods transport agents keep shutters closed,” he noted, while agreeing no glitch had been reported from any centre.
M S Mani, partner with consultants Deloitte India, concurred. He said the portal would get appropriately tested during the next week, as factory dispatches are traditionally low in the first few days of a month.
Also, generation of the bill is mandatory only for inter-state movement of goods worth over Rs 50,000, as of now.
Said the GSTN chief: “We will watch inter-state movement of goods for seven to 10 days and then a call will be taken on making it mandatory for intra-state movement, in a phased manner.”
Singh said 40 per cent of goods transported move inter-state and 60 per cent intra-state. So, the real test would begin after bill generation was made mandatory for intra-state.
Rajesh Bhurke, a goods carrier owner in Pune, said: “Accuracy is important in the (rule) compliance and it comes with a cost. Freight charges might increase after the new system settles.”
On the other hand, transporters are relieved at the relative easing of activity on border checkposts.
Sudhir Singh, MD, MargERP, said, “Transporters are showing eagerness in registering for e-way bill system so that they can take advantage of easier tax filing.” Others agreed.
“In the previous regime, we had to stamp in while entering and stamp out while leaving at the border in some states. Much of the time and dealings at checkposts is saved now,” said a transporter, who ships three-wheelers as far as Nepal.
“The central authority and state GST department have decided to divide the load and monitor a different set of transporters each,” said another official.