The Group of Ministers (GoM) overseeing the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has said that the e-way bill, a tracking mechanism for the movement of goods, is to be introduced from April 1 for inter-state consignments worth over Rs 50,000. The e-way bill was to be introduced from February 1 but had to be postponed as the online system crashed under the weight of lakhs of transactions. All things considered, the new date announced reflects more optimism than reality. Moreover, the GoM’s recommendations have still to run the gauntlet of the GST Council on March 10.
The technological task of ushering in a glitch-free e-way bill is gargantuan. It is the electronic tracking and documentation of the movement of goods, that is key to stopping evasion of taxes. In the trial phase alone, there are 6.5 lakh e-way bills being generated per day, and these will go up to 26-50 lakh a day when the system is fully functional. On the last occasion, the system had crashed as it could not handle the 4.8 lakh bills generated. While the GoM head and Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi has assured the electronic system has been upgraded and tested, he conceded there was more testing to be done. In this context there is still a question over whether the system is robust enough to handle the load expected.
A more practical solution suggested by industry is that the government should consider implementing the e-way bill in phases to prevent overloading. At the start the threshold value of goods should be hiked from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh in the first phase, and then to Rs 2 lakh in the second phase. Finally, the threshold can be brought down to Rs 50,000. During the last round, the system crash had created mountains of confusion and hassle. While the government is on the right track to bring all taxable transactions within the ambit of electronic tracking, the system should be ready and working. Undue haste will only lead to another round of embarrassment.