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Businesses Stay Optimistic Amid GSTN's Tech Hiccups

Businesses Stay Optimistic Amid GSTN's Tech Hiccups
ET speaks to stakeholders as portal tries to smoothen glitches related to filing of returns
System seems to have encountered an error while processing your return...Please try after some time. GSTN portal is experiencing an abrupt surge in traffic, hence we're unable to service your request...' These are some of the responses from the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) portal when businesses attempted to file returns or upload invoices for July.

Filing returns has emerged as a sore point after GST rollout on July 1, pushing the portal's functioning to the centrestage at the last GST Council meeting on September 9. A group of ministers headed by Bihar finance minister Sushil Kumar Modi has already directed Infosys -the backend service provider -to fix the system.

Why did GSTN crash on September 4 and September 9? The portal is designed handle uploads of up to 50,000 invoices per second. Was it server capacity or lack of preparedness of what the filing quantum would be or did the portal need more time to ensure smooth functioning?

IDENTIFYING THE GLITCH
The glitch was not of the server or the infrastructure, said insiders ET spoke to. The crashes happened because of one particular taxpayer -a large bank that uploaded a massive number of invoices in a way the system was not designed to accept. The invoices were not structured as per GSTN's design, and it slowed down the system.

The taxpayer gave the same number to all the five lakh invoices-it was something the system could not decipher. While it battled this deluge, others were not able to access the system. The issue was, however, resolved that very night and subsequently, 7.5 lakh returns were filed on September 9.

This happened even after banks were told they should file one invoice per customer on the lines of the statements they send to them. This is provided in the law but the bank's software was not designed for this.In this case, every invoice for every transaction of the bank was updated.

Subsequent analysis showed capacity was not the issue. GSTN servers that night on an average clocked 80,000 to 85,000 invoices an hour at just 10% server utilisation.

The problem was with the way the softwa re was written, requiring high-level debugging to take care of unexpected behaviours such as this.

“Expected behaviour is that if you have 1,000 invoices of one buyer, you upload all 1,000 together. That's the way our system works, our offline tool works and our portal works. It was a peculiar scenario...We have learnt our lessons,“ said a GSTN official.

Businesses appreciated the quick response. “This an insane reform that has taken place. There are teething troubles; people are trying to settle but government has been supportive of extending the deadli ne,“ said Tejas Goenka, executive director at Tally Solutions.

ARE TRADERS FEELING THE HEAT?

For traders, the switchover to GST has been a big change. They are trying to adjust to the new tax reality, which has transparency but a higher interface with IT. Businesses that never automated billing had to switch to the regime, requiring adjustments.

There was some confusion around the levy of Integrated GST if a trader had business in a neighbouring state. Quoting of Harmonised System of Nomenclature codes also unnerved traders as they had never used these before unlike their excise counterparts.

A shopkeeper in Old Delhi's Kinari bazaar selling wedding items said the multiple tax rate led to confusion. Then there was the issue of his suppliers, who are artisans, as also buyers, who are yet to register.

Traders associations blame the confusion on IT issues. “The dismal performance of GSTN and the lukewarm attitude of state governments towards traders before and after GST has shattered our hopes of a simplified and rationalised tax system,“ said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of Confederation of All India Traders.“Neither the GST Council or union government or state governments bothered to consult traders.“

But a government official said traders have been filing online returns under the value added tax regime as well where the turnover threshold was `5-10 lakh. “Why should there be an issue? These small traders have been under state VAT regime for a while,“ the official said.

Not all traders are complaining though.“We're fine with GST. We have taken services of a chartered accounts for our compliances,“ said Himanshu, who runs a lace shop in Kinari Bazaar with his brother.

Parvati Pharma, a medicine wholeseller in Bhagirath Place, too tasked a chartered account with the compliances. Anuj Jain, a wholeseller in Pandav Nagar, said any new tax takes time to settle down.

Big business too expects the GST confusion to settle down soon. Some are trying to help out vendors meet compliance requirements.

But there are concerns over mismatch resulting in credit loss besides delay in notification of guidelines of the new scheme for reimbursement.

“Though business is coming back on track, some teething issues related to input credit and filing of returns remain. We expect these to be sorted out at the earliest,“ said Lalit Malik, chief financial officer at Dabur India.

“It has been an outstanding rollout. The government has managed to make 29 states borderless and unified more than a dozen levies,“ said Varun Berry, managing director of Britannia.

The Economics Times, New Delhi, 20th september 2017

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