The GST Network (GSTN), a non-profit, non-government organisation which manages the entire IT system of the GST portal has been at the receiving end for all the issues that cropped up in the course of the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India. Yet, in the past five months the organisation has steered India towards a new indirect regime, albeit on a bumpy road.
Here ETCFO caught up with Prakash Kumar , CEO, GSTN to get a sense of the key outstanding issues and the priorities for the coming months. Prior to this assignment, Kumar, an officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) from 1985 to 2008, held positions at the strategic consulting arm of Cisco and then worked as the National Technology Officer at Microsoft India.
Kumar believes that the organisation got more flak than it deserved given the crunched deadlines it worked on for such a complex project. There simply wasn’t enough time to build and test the system and then educate the tax payers on the change. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q: What are the current challenges that are taking up your time?
Prakash Kumar : The main job at present is to complete the pending functionality and to develop the back-end for 27 states. Roughly 27,000 tax officers of these states work on our system. Earlier, we were planning to do this in phase two, but this item has been advanced forward. Functionality has to be made available for these states. Other nine states are doing their own backend with independent vendors.
Other than that there are some pending functionalities in the existing system. So, for example, we are working on the ‘appeal’ functionality. We never thought that it will be required so soon. But then, when registration is cancelled, people will go to appeal. So there are lot of such functionalities that we are focussing on.
Another example is the refund process which we want to automate end-to-end. We have the next three months have to deliver on this. Today it is half automated and half manual – you apply and then the officer will go through each bill and approve. Next two to three months, the refunds would be done on the computers. The tax payers will not need to go to the tax officials.
Q: What are the other priorities?
Prakash Kumar : Based on this experience of the past five months for returns and the feedback from tax payers on GSTR1 and GSTR2, we are redesigning the whole system. For that a committee of 10 members has been constituted chaired by GSTN chairman and members from across the states. I am also a member.
What that committee is working on are ways to simplify how people will be interfacing with the system. In fact, we are targeting to even simply GSTR3.
We have to redesign the software. Migrating the data from the existing system yet again will be a challenge. That is why I am here, to ensure that it is designed in such a way that data porting doesn’t become difficult.
We realised this when we were doing migration initially. We had do some minor changes, when we started porting that data into new format. We had massive challenges in July. Suddenly, the screens went blank and the user could see nothing. This was because a new field had been introduced and the system was not used to it. It took us a few days to find out what had happened. And, people get impatient. Our call centre had a meltdown, it has a capacity for 20,000 calls but that day we had 50,000 calls.
We will try and finish the redesign by December, so that we can develop and test it properly.