GST procedure yet to be streamlined

Shortage of manpower and equipment has crippled the land customs office at Jaigaon

With limited staff and equipment, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) procedure is still almost on freeze at Jaigaon land customs office now called the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) port.

Currently, the office has four computers and four operators working from 6am to 10pm in dual shifts.

However, transporters feel that more staffs are required to streamline the GST filing procedure at the port.

The current staff and equipment can file GST for up to 25 trucks a day; both imports to and exports from Bhutan. But more than 50 truckloads of consignments arrive at the gate daily. The stranded trucks are parked a few kilometers from the EDI port in order to reduce traffic congestion. At present, more than 100 truckloads are still waiting at the location.

As an interim measure, the office has outsourced GST filing formalities to Customs House Agency (CHA), a private agency designated to assist the customs officials.

“The system requires a minimum of 10 computers. The customs office alone cannot handle a workload this magnitude,” said President of Jaigaon Transporters Welfare Association (JTWA), J.P Shrivastav. He added that four staffs cannot work for 16 hours in two shifts and that additional manpower is required. Another CHA is expected to start working next month.

However, transporters also feel that since the Land Customs Superintendent needs to approve the final filing, adding staffs while only a single person is deputed to approve does not make sense.

Each consignment has to complete 13 procedures to file GST at the EDI port which takes about 45 minutes.

Initially, the customs office used to file GST manually but has stopped doing so due to complications while claiming refund.

Both transporters of finished goods and raw materials from and to Bhutan have faced losses post-GST.

“The repercussions are huge. There are other impacts too,” said General Secretary of JTWA, Naveen Sharma. The truckers also charge huge detention fee calculated on a per-day basis to be paid by the traders.

A Bhutanese trader said that his shop has not received consignments for months now. The consignment that did arrive has been stranded at the EDI port for two days. “We have been trying to file GST but the office remains busy always. My consignment is stuck,” he said.

A Bhutanese trucker who has been stranded for two days said that he does not know what is happening. “We are waiting since yesterday,” said Ugyen at the time of interview.

An Indian merchant who has to deliver goods to Bhutan said that his consignment has been stranded for 10 days at the EDI port. He is worried about the detention charges to be paid to the truckers.

“Until the 28% GST is exempted for traders, Bhutanese customers are less likely to reap benefits as traders do not receive refund, which compels them to increase prices of goods,” he said adding that his business has declined after GST imposition.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing