GST and work from home
There is substantial merit in the conventional corporate culture which mandates for physical availability of the workforce at the work station and work in togetherness under co-operative ethos. It greatly contributes to loyalty and integrity of the employee and develops an organisation into an extended family. There are many other intangible benefits associated with fixed hours working culture at a centralized work space, such as satisfying a person’s socializing need, knowledge sharing, brain storming, et al.
However, call it a bolt from blue, the concept of ‘work from home’ (WFH) became indispensable, predominantly due to the Covid-19 offensive! Given an enemy like Corona Virus which threats the very pillars of economy by utterly jamming the wheels thereof, it is imperative that business should not stop and continuity of work is ensured. Today, with Laptops and smart mobile handsets, huge memories, robust storage, powerful connectivity and unsurmountable system security with virtual meeting rooms and video calls, a need for a regular visit to office could be safely avoided, at least as a stopgap measure.
Below are discussed some important aspects of GST and its feasibility under the novel WFH culture as a contingent and a temporary alternative to the conventional work system, for tax personnel associated with GST :
Registration: Multiple visits and interactions with tax officials are no more needed to secure a GST registration. Currently, the entire process of registration is accomplished online without at all a visit to the jurisdictional range/circle office. Same is the case with amendment to registration or cancellation of registration or revocation of cancellation process also.
Material movement documents: Whether it is a Tax Invoice, Delivery Challan, Bills of Supply or E-Way Bill, every document presently is generated online with the aid of some software, be it ERP-SAP or Tally or any such accounting package. These systems, backed up with proper security support, could be operated at any place where proper internet connectivity is available. So a user sitting at home or on the move or anywhere, can generate and give print command remotely to generate the documents for movement of goods. Also, with enactment of e-signature concept under IT act, there is no need of signing such documents. E-Way Bill generation is in practice since last two years and is hugely successful across the length and breadth of India, which also can be processed remotely and is entirely online. Post implementation of the E-Invoice mechanism in India, the affixing of the Invoice Reference Number (IRN) and the QR Code would substantiate that the invoice has been reported in the GST portal.
Accounts & Records: Preservation of soft data of tax accounts and records is in practice for the last couple of decades since the emergence of SAP, tally and such other office automation software. Tremendous enhancement in data storage technology aided the assessees to switch over to soft mode of data storage than paper copies, which were conventionally filed in hard files having dedicated data storage rooms. Today it is inconceivable to think that the accounts and records are not available in soft form. Nowadays, inter se exchange of huge data between users or between auditee and auditor is just a matter of few seconds. In near future, the generation of E-Invoice would result in drastic reduction of in scrutiny of hard or soft copies of tax paying documents for the purpose of ITC. The laborious matching activities would be hugely simplified leaving little scope for manual intervention and creeping mistakes leading to efficient tax administration, reduction in carbon footprints and better account reconciliation.
GST Network : Tax authorities have walked a long way on the road to digitalization. The technological advancement has drastically curtailed the need for personal Liaisoning with the government officials, after the introduction of GST Network. It has substantially addressed the need of reduction of gap between data and technology, though many aspects of tax administration are yet to be either introduced or implemented in the GSTN, which should be advantageous to both – the assessee and the government. All the returns, reports and details are filed online now. Refund applications are filed and sanctioned online and the amount is credited to Electronic credit ledger or credited to the bank account of the applicant. Applications are filed online and approved online. Deficiency Memos issued online and rectified online. Notices are issued online and replied online. The days of Babudom have become history with the advent of GST while the reign of inspector raj already extinct decades ago.
Appeals & Revision: Thanks to this microscopic creature, last month the CBIC issued guidelines for virtual personal hearings, albeit purely for the purpose of surmounting this short term contingency and to ensure social distancing.
Assessment & Audit: With almost all the reports, documents, returns, records available online or in soft form, remote scrutiny and audit is indisputably workable. The only act getting dispensed in the process is signed paper exchanges between the auditor and the auditee. Leveraging technological help for having a verbal and video chats or exchange of documents, or working together on same document left very little scope for in person communication between the parties to the audit. Goes without saying, even the Government Audit is also treading this line in view of rapid automation in the past few years esp. with implementation of GSTN and EWB Network.
Conclusion : Rapid technological onslaught resulting in adoption of thorough digital tax administration by the corporates further aided to make WFH concept a viable proposition in this trouble times. It is not out of place to think of a video conferencing, group chat, hang out meet between tax personnel sitting at remote locations on audit, query, tax planning, query resolution under legal framework and training. The availability of the whole gamut of google office aids such as spreadsheets, drive, hangout, etc. have made WFH a natural corollary. God forbade if any such problem occurs in future, this resilient measure would definitely reduce the impact drastically.