A week ahead of the goods and services tax roll-out, a visibly stressed Navin Kumar, chairman of the GSTNetwork, said that the the IT backbone of the Goods and Services Tax will be ready by July 15. Although confident of the software, Kumar told Dilasha Seth of Business Standard it would stabilise over three-four months from the introduction of the GST. Edited excerpts:
With a week to go for the [GST] roll-out, what are the thoughts on this? Are you nervous?
We are very, very stressed now. We are working 28 hours a day.
Are you being flooded with calls and messages from industry and traders?
Industry generally talks to the government, but, yes, we keep getting tweets and messages. There was some problem when enrolment was on and the tax department cancelled a lot of registered service taxpayers that had got provisional IDs as they were apparently not active. These 50-60 people lined up at our office. We then referred the matter to the tax department and it was resolved.
How confident are you of the GSTN system? Have you been able to conclude testing the software?
It should be a stable system. Problems that surfaced during the first phase of the testing have been resolved. We did the testing on the basis of the rules that came in December. After that, some changes were made to the rules. Those changes we have absorbed now, so there is no time to do beta testing for that. Other than that, we have done all other tests. So, we are fairly confident of the system.
The view of industry and GST Suvidha Providers is that the GSTN is doing great work, but the timetable is too tight. Do you also feel that July 1 is too early to implement the GST when the rules were finalised just 15 days ago?
If we had more time, we would have been perhaps better-placed. When we started with Infosys, the GST was not in sight. The Constitution Amendment Bill was still in Parliament and we were in a dilemma. The project was costing Rs 1,400 crore. Could we make a commitment when the GST is not there? We went to the empowered committee of state finance ministers and apprised them of the situation.
Our proposal was to let us develop the software and hold back on the hardware, where all the money goes. They agreed and allowed us to work on the draft processes. The software development started after the draft law was approved. The model law was put in the public domain in May and was revised in November, and the rules were given in December. All the development till then was modified on the basis of the December rules. After the central registration, there have been further revisions, necessitating more changes in the software. Thankfully, those are not very many.
By when will you be completely ready?
We have been working on that. For return form GSTR [GST Returns] 1, the coding has been done and the testing is also at a very advanced stage. By July 15, GSTR 1 will be ready. GSTR 2 will be ready by the end of July and GSTR 3 will be ready 10 days after that. But you have to see how things have evolved. So, we are just in time. But the good thing is that the GST Council did not defer the roll-out. Starting from July 1, the system will be available in a staggered fashion.
GST Suvidha Providers have raised concerns over the unavailability of the Application Program Interface by the GSTN. Has that been sorted out?
When we developed the software based on the December rules, we provided APIs [Application Program Interfaces] to GSPs [GST Suvidha Providers]. But half of them thought of waiting until the legislation was in place as it would have gone through changes. These are people who did not work on the basis of the December APIs. But there are others who did so. Through discussion we have worked out timelines for GSTR 1, GSTR 2, and GSTR3. We will give them GSTR 1 by June 28 so that they can be ready for the invoice upload facility by July 15. The other two APIs for GSTR 2 and 3 will be given after that.
There is a concern that due to the lack of time, while the GSTN will deliver a functional software; it will not be a robust one because it takes eight-nine months for hardening of software.
Nowhere in the world does the hardening of software take place before the roll-out. We would have loved to have a couple of months more before the roll-out. When you are about to deploy the software, there is a code freeze when code writing stops. In the next 10 days you do the testing. There is no time for that now. It takes three-four months for stabilisation to happen.
How secure is the GSTN network if we talk of cyber security, a concern also raised by the Prime Minister?
For any IT system you wish to build, a proper security system is essential. Our IT system is ISO 27001-certified, which is the best-known standard for the information security management system. We have set up a security operation centre, which will run 24x7 and 365 days to keep an eye on traffic to the portal. It will raise an alarm in the case of suspicious activity.
How action-packed will July be for you?
We expect a good rush in the week until July 1. Those wanting to migrate will also come. From July 1, things will start easing and action will start again from July 15.
This article first appeared on Business Standard.