The roll-out of the new simplified return-filing system for the goods and services tax (GST), which was to kick in from January 2019, may get delayed further and, most probably, beyond the tenure of the current government. According to sources, even though the Narendra Modi government wants to implement the system before the general election, that may not happen given the time needed to complete the elaborate testing procedures to make the system foolproof.
Officials have been asked not to precipitate a repeat of the glitches faced by the originally conceived triplicate returns system that has never been fully implemented. Since the January deadline for the new system — which will automatically produce monthly returns based on supply data uploaded and inward supplies accepted — is difficult to be met and the announcement of the election is expected by March, the government might have to reconcile with the need to defer it further rather than risk a problematic system close to elections, sources said.
Since the GST returns filing continues to be confined to the summary returns GSTR 3B (with which taxes are paid) and outward supply (GSTR-1), the crucial anti-evasion requirement of invoices matching is not being met. It is assumed this is one of the reasons for the continuing shortfall in GST collections.
“The fear is that even if a handful of people complain of the system’s potential shortcomings, it could be amplified disproportionately on the eve of impending elections,” a government official said on condition of anonymity.
According to the implementation plan, a prototype of the software would be first deployed. This would be followed by release of the beta version of the final software, open for a few taxpayers to use in the real-world environment. However, sources said, the entire cycle could take six to eight months from now.
“We are planning to first release a prototype of the software, which would be connected to a small server. This would then be taken to various industry bodies and tax practitioners for them to use, an essential element to find bugs in the system that can be rectified,” an official said.
He added that it was essential that the new system is exposed to real taxpayers and tax practitioners to make it robust. This is a learning from the (failed) earlier system, which was tested in-house robustly but wasn’t tried by real taxpayers. This had resulted in constant firefighting to resolve glitches after the system went live.
“After the format for the new system was approved by the GST Council, the GST Network has started working on its implementation,” a tax official involved closely with drafting the new system said.
The GST Council in August had approved the format of the new design which promises to be lot less cumbersome for assessees than the original system that required filing three returns every month. In the new system, there will be a facility for sellers to continuously add invoices and for buyers to view them. The system could allow the buyer to lock the invoice after which the seller can’t edit/delete it, making it a confirmed liability of the seller.