The movement of consignments from source to destination in an efficient manner is the key for development and success of economy. Infrastructure as well as facilities involved for multimodal transport in the commercial world in India needs to be supported by the robust digital infrastructure for seamless movement of consignments and recording of transactions as well as their intelligent verification ensuring compliance of law. Proper recording of every transaction is a need for healthy competitive business where there is no scope for unhealthy competition due to possibility of tax evasion. The integrated solution having required attributes is also necessary for the collection of proper and correct taxes essentially needed for the citizens of the country.

The ‘Goods & Services Tax’ no doubt has been planned with this objective and probably after initial hiccups it may stabilise and very soon achieve the goals. The “self-policing mechanism” i.e., matching of outward supply with the inward supply and consequently ensuring correct claim of ITC as well as due payment of tax by one and all was proclaimed as one of the effective advantages of GST. During the planning stage for GST it was propagated by the policy makers that all the check-posts on the borders of the States will go away and there would be seamless movement of goods from one corner to another corner of the country. This idea was well received not only by Trade & Industry but also by the Transport and Logistic sector, it was expected that in the GST regime the system of movement of goods and doing business in the country is going to tremendously change. Everybody of us was in great hope……, but this hope was shattered as some of the States could not accept this idea, as administration was notable to garner the required trust of business and industry to implement GST without ‘e-way Bill’.

Suddenly, the idea of ‘National E-Way Bill’ cropped-up and hurriedly legal provisions now contained in Section 68 of CGST Act, 2017 and Rule 138 to 138-D of the CGST Rules 2018 were framed and incorporated into draft GST law just before the start of so called very short public debate. At that time also the policy makers and law framers re-assured the Trade & Industry including Transport and Logistics sector that the new system of GST would ensure hassle free and seamless movement of goods throughout the country. The question that arises ‘Why E-Way Bills’?

The ideal situation as well as one of the prime aim of introduction of GST in the country as “Tax Reform” was to make movement of goods easy and hassle free without any need of personal intervention by the Officers of the Tax Check-Posts or on Road by the Officers of Mobile Squad.

Since, e-Way bill is introduced by Rule 138 of the CGST Rule, 2018 the other provisions such as following comes into play:

Rule 138-A which prescribes – Documents and Devices to be carried by a person-in-charge of the conveyance or Rule 138-B which prescribes-Verification of documents and conveyance or

Rule 138-C which prescribes – Inspection and verification of goods or

Rule 138-D which prescribes – Uploading of information regarding detention of vehicle etc.

Without these gripping provisions under GST Act there is no point for prescribing ‘e-Way Bill’. Thus, once these draconian provisions have been placed on the statute whereby total tax along with equivalent amount of penalty i.e. 200% of the basic tax amount is required to be forcefully deposited for release of the consignment and vehicle, such powers are bound to be misused by inspectors or officers on road in the Mobile Squad due to the discretion and availability of opportunity of personal interaction. Removing the check posts in GST be then just an eye wash and nothing more.

Just to give a simple and live example in the State of U.P., since 9th February 2018 large number of consignments were detained throughout the State by the Mobile Squad Officers only for the reason that ‘U.P. E-Sancharan Form’ was not available with the inter-state consignment even though the optional ‘National E-Way Bill’ was very much available with the consignment. More than 300 transporters or business dealers have gathered courage to approach Hon’ble Allahabad High Court for release of consignment without deposit of the required 200% of the amount of basic tax (IGST) even though there was no effective Notification prescribing verification of inter-state movement of goods from one State to another State. It is important that Hon’ble High Court has repeatedly ordered to release such consignments and vehicle without the deposit of cash and bank guarantee. The top administration of the State of U.P. is still allowing this wrong and illegal practice since 9th February 2018 which is against the spirit of seamless movement of consignments in GST.

If such type of attitude/ approachcontinues in GST regime by same set of Administrative Officers who were earlier responsible to check the consignments in the erstwhile Trade Tax or VAT regime then probably one of the major objectives of implementation of GST will be frustrated and the positive effects will not be available to the Indian economy. Not only Central Government, but every State needs to frame such law and procedures, so that it could not be misused by anybody including the officials in the larger interest of the economy and nation.

The requirement and system of ‘e-Way Bill’ could be dispensed with if “GSTN IT platform”of the Government ensures the correct matching of ‘Tax Invoices’ as recorded by the outward supplier and the inward recipient of the goods. Unfortunately, due to the reasons known to the Government in spite of GST in place for more than eight months, GSTN system has not yet taken any information of inward supply i.e. purchases etc. including Input Tax Credit in GSTR-2. Probably the inefficiency of the Government IT Platform is forcing the requirement of introduction of the system of ‘National E-Way Bill’. Unfortunately, it is at the detriment of honest & fully complied tax payers.

Had there been a mandatory requirement as envisaged in GST Law of additionally uploading of “Tax Invoice” through Official Web Portal of the Government then there would have been no distinct need of creation of ‘e-Way Bill’. This will not only eliminate the burden on the official web portal for separately issuing ‘e-Way Bill’ for every transaction of ₹ 50,000/- or more for which ‘Tax Invoice’ has already been issued and recorded by the supplier. This will also save the precious time consumed by the employees of Trade & Industry including Transporters avoiding duplicity of work and possibility of wrong punching of any information while generating ‘e-Way Bill’. Further it will also save time and burden of again uploading of invoice data on web portal at the time of furnishing monthly returns i.e. GSTR-1 which will also relive burden on IT platform making it comparatively free during the last days of return filing.

To my mind the advantages as claimed by bureaucracy in favour of the requirement of ‘e-Way Bill’ are much less than the disadvantages in the shape of repetition of work as well as enhanced burden on IT Platform. Every action entails some cost to the stake-holder which is an avoidable burden on economy making transaction more cost effective, this should be considered by the policy makers in the larger interest of competitive business.

The biggest advantage as assumed and propagated by the administrationis to stop the multiple reuse of the same ‘Tax Invoice’ on the same day for movement of more than one set of similar goods specially for the short distances across the borders of the states as the consignment is covered under ‘e-Way bill’, but my strong apprehension is that the procedure prescribed under Rule 138 to 138-D under Notification No. 12/2018 – Central Tax dated 7-3-2018 this aim could not be achieved as this notification provides that the cancellation of ‘e-Way Bill’ is possible within 24 hours by the supplier as well as rejection of ‘e-Way Bill’by the recipient within 72 hours, this unscrupulous method may be adopted to hide the multiple transaction,so the aim to check the repeated movement of goods under one set of documents cannot be achieved by the newly designed system of ‘e-Way Bill’. It is required that the fast and efficient digitally supported system should be put in place under which the transaction is automatically verified through RFID Tag for the individual consignment or group of consignments loaded in any mode of transportation without physical intervention or stoppage of vehicle.

The most important issue in GST concerning the ‘e-Way Bill’ is that this system is adversely impacting the basic philosophy of the Government of minimal interaction between taxpayer and the tax controller/tax inspectors. The philosophy of the present Government of minimal contact to avoid corruption seems to be not achieved, this may be against the roadmap of corruption free India. Apart from this issue, the Government with open heart have considered many suggestions of Trade & Industry including Transporters & Logistics Sector to provide better and unambiguous procedures in the reintroduced ‘National e-Way Bill’ system under certain eventualities which may avoid many practical difficulties.

In the era of multimodal transportation the Government has to certain extent already envisaged the practical requirement that consignments may take various modes like Road, Rail, Water-ways, Sea or Air during its transportation from source to destination and thus provided in ‘Rule 138A(1)(b) proviso’that there is no requirement of ‘e-Way bill’ in physical form or ‘e-Way Bill’ number in electronic form or ‘E-way bill’ mapped on RFID device embedded on the conveyance when the goods are moving by rail or air or vessel. So only e-Way bill is required to be kept by the in-charge of the vehicle when the goods are transported on road. The railway has been placed under responsibility to deliver the goods only when the recipient furnishes the valid copy of ‘e-Way Bill’ for the consignment. Further the responsibility of generation of ‘e-Way Bill’ has not been casted on the shoulders of railways or airways or vessel companies while a transporter in addition to a registered person being the supplier or the recipient may generate ‘E-way Bill’ if authorized in that respect.

Further, the Transporter needs to be enrolled or registered on the ‘e-Way Bill Portal’ of the Government to update details of mode/conveyance of transport in Part–B of e-Way Bill 01 in respect of the transection under movement, each transporter will be allotted a TRANSID (a unique number like GSTIN) for identification, it is important to note that the transporter must declare the details of all the warehouses and offices on the ‘e-Way Bill Portal’ at time of obtaining TRANSID at GST Portal, this is necessary in order to avoid harassment from tax authorities during verification raids conducted at the warehouses or offices of the transport companies.

The well designed intelligent and integrated system of reporting and verification of commercial transactions based on a robust Information Technology Platform could be a great help for faster and smoother movement of goods in the era of multimodal transportation.

[Source : Article printed in the souvenir of 2 Day National Tax Conference held on 5th & 6th May, 2018 at Indore]