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Unhappy with the performance of the GST portal over the last five years, Vivek Shah, a chartered accountant based in Mumbai, decided to file an RTI to figure out how much money was paid to Infosys for the project.
“The primary reason to file this RTI was to understand how much of taxpayers money has been spent on the portal and to know if anyone is accountable for the mess that is created. The response of the department was quite evasive. They chose to ignore or not answer four out of the five questions asked. However, they have provided information about the cost paid to Infosys Ltd—which is INR 1,379.71 crores.”
Over the years, multiple stakeholders have complained about the GST portal and how badly it has been maintained. In fact, many consultants claim that Infosys has failed miserably in handling the GST portal.
However, what raises even more eyebrows is that, despite its increasingly apparent shortcomings, the central government has failed to hold Infosys accountable so far.
Responding to this, an Infosys spokesperson said, “There has been consistent collection of INR 1.45 lakh crores every month with highest ever collections of INR 1.67 lakh crores in Apr’22 and INR 1.52 lakh crores in Oct’22. Average collection is 28% more than last fiscal year. There has been no disruption during peak filing this year with 90% compliance for both GSTR-3B and GSTR-1 with 100% increase in monthly GSTR-1 filing.”
Issues with the portal
“Down time of the GST portal is the single biggest issue faced by the stakeholders,” Shah said. Besides prolonged downtime, technical glitches and inability to process large amounts of data simultaneously are just some of the issues with the GST portal.
However, according to Infosys, there has been no disruptions during peak filing this year. “On non-peak filing days, there has been only 3 disruptions this year and all are due to hardware related issues,” the spokesperson said.
Nonetheless, chartered accountants sharing their frustrations on Twitter by pointing out the issues they face with Aadhar authentication, registration of TIN, OTP generation, denial of service, 404 errors, and more is almost an everyday occurrence.
While it is understandable that maintaining a portal to withstand the traffic of the entire country is an arduous task, the issues are way too recurrent to turn a blind eye to.
“In addition to this, at times, there are issues of auto-population of data on the GST portal,” Shah said.
Emphasising further on this, Pritam Mahure, a chartered accountant based in Pune told AIM that in certain cases, import ITC does not get auto-populated in GSTR-2A/2B of the taxpayer. Similarly, many taxpayers whose GST registration number is cancelled are unable to re-activate the same.
“GST was introduced without a robust IT system in place and that is one of the reasons that it has struggled due to technical glitches since its inception,” Mahure added.
In response, the Infosys spokesperson said that GSTR-2B generation is an optional feature provided to taxpayers to check their Input Tax Credit (ITC). “There had been an instance of missing invoices in calculating ITC in Apr’22 due to a missing configuration parameter, owing to the change in the financial year. This was rectified on the same day after regeneration of the process.”
Further, explaining the issues with Aadhar authentication, the spokesperson said, “̌The issue is not on the GST portal. Starting Nov’22, the average response time for getting response from Aadhaar increased to more than 8 seconds, whereas for the GST portal the maximum allowable time is 4 seconds, which led to a timeout of requests. This a known issue to GSTN, to the Ministry and to UIDAI, and is getting resolved.”
Pradip Kapadia, who previously served as the President of GST Practitioners Association of Maharashtra (GSTPAM), told AIM that the government needed to first run a trial period with the portal; however, they chose to jump the gun and we are now able to witness the consequences of that decision.
“GSTN was given a humongous task to design and develop a complex two-way flow portal, which had to be developed in very short time, able to withstand traffic of the entire country, among every changing rules/laws,” Gaurav Kenkre, a chartered accountant based in Goa, told AIM.
Every time there is an issue with the GST Portal, it is the taxpayers who are always at the receiving end of it. “Sometimes taxpayers have had to face late fees and penalties etc for no fault of their own,” Kenkre said.
“At times, clients feel that we are inefficient, whereas the actual problem lies with the portal. On many occasions, we have taken screenshots and sent them to our clients as proof of the portal not working,” Shah said.
The consultants are also at the receiving end of such bottlenecks many times because it is often difficult to explain to taxpayers that errors and delays are not necessarily due to the consultant’s laxity but due to the portal itself.
“Based on my discussions, I know that even the GST officers are struggling to get proper timely reports and data. We have seen many times that certain data which we can see on the front-end is not visible on the back-end to the GST officers,” Kenkre explained.
Despite its shortcomings, Shah said that Infosys was never charged any penalty. “They were not black listed either, instead, they were given another two contracts subsequently to develop the IT portal and the ROC portal,” Shah said.
It’s not that the government has not paid any heed to the outcry of the stakeholders over the years. Time and time again, the government has pulled up Infosys over the glitches on the portal. In fact, last year Infosys’ non-Executive Chairman Nandan Nilekani presented a new timeline for better services to the GST Council.
However, problems remain and many different stakeholders are of the opinion that there is a need for accountability. “This is taxpayers’ money going into Infosys’ pocket. When citizens pay taxes, the least that they expect is accountability,” Shah said.
Kenkre believes that Infosys on its side will have all its defences ready. “Too little time given, laws changing too fast, no proper functional analysis given, limited budget etc. From an outsider’s perspective, the blame will have to be shared by all the people involved.”
Mahure also believes that blaming someone will not solve the problem. “I think the solution is that the GSTN/ GST Council should do an India-wide survey for improvements in the GST portal and plan to implement such suggestions over a period of next five years.”
[Note] December 20, 2022 | 20:00 | The story has been updated to reflect Infosys views.