Slow and steady wins the race

The GST Council has learnt that it’s better to be a tortoise than a hare

One of the defining features of this government has been its overwhelming urge to get things done quick, whatever it is. The message always seems to be a breathless “Look how much we have done so quickly!”

This is, without doubt, a great attitude for a government to have. But there are some instances where a frenetic pace just slows things down, and it seems the government is finally realising that.

What’s the hurry

While it’s great that the government has achieved 100 per cent electrification of villages, it comes as a relief that it has finally learnt to slow down when it comes to implementing changes in important areas, as seen by the latest decisions of the GST Council.

The desire for quick results has repeatedly made the smooth rollout of GST a hiccuping affair, right from its premature rollout on July 1, 2017.

The new tax regime was implemented barely a few days after the return-filing forms were finalised, leaving everybody scrambling to get a grip in a vastly new tax environment.

What followed was more of the same — last-minute deadline extensions, rate changes and procedure alterations.

The haste with which GST was rolled out meant that some of its most useful features — invoice-matching and input tax credits — were severely hamstrung.

With people and businesses struggling to understand the various forms required to file GST returns, the government decided to do away with the GSTR-2 and GSTR-3 forms.

This meant that it could not accurately match the data uploaded by a purchaser with the suppliers’ information, which in turn meant that there was no way of accurately gauging how much input tax credit the government had to pay out.

This had a direct effect on the government’s ability to estimate its GST revenues.

This is not to mention the GST Network portal’s repeated inability to handle the traffic of taxpayers, come return-filing deadline.

Then there was the entire e-way bills fiasco. The government had initially decided that the system would roll out on April 1, 2018; but a short while later, it inexplicably brought this forward to February 1.

Needless to say, this was a disastrous decision.

The transporters were clueless, and the portal on which the e-way bills were to be generated went down so often that the government had to defer the rollout back to April 1.

Easing up

But since then, it seems like good sense has prevailed. Following the April 1 rollout of the e-way bill system for inter-State transport of goods, the government initiated a phase-wise rollout of the billing system for intra-State transport, with new States coming on board every few weeks. This has been a success, since transporters across the country were given the time to properly acquaint themselves with the forms and procedures.

The latest decision by the GST Council to implement a single, unified return-filing form shows that the haste vs effectiveness balance has shifted firmly towards the latter in the government’s thinking. So, where the summary GSTR-3B form — meant to temporarily replace the GSTR-2 and GSTR-3 forms — was introduced and rolled out some two months after the implementation of GST, the new unified form will become applicable with a delay of a full six months. And that too in a phased manner.

According to the GST Council, the single form will be implemented with such a lag so that the GST Network has enough time to update its software. That’s a realisation that couldn’t have come too soon. Even after the six months are completed, the Council has decided to implement a temporary phase of an additional six months where businesses will be able to avail themselves of provisional credit even if their suppliers have not uploaded their invoices. It’s only after that — a period of one year — that the single, unified form will be implemented in earnest.

It’s very welcome that the GST Council has learnt to give people time to adjust to new changes. Hopefully, the urgency of the 2019 elections won’t make them forget that lesson.

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