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Officials race against time to roll out Goods and Service Tax Network
March, 13th 2015

For the last few months, a lean team of bureaucrats and volunteers have been burning midnight oil. Their goal is to build a sophisticated technology system that will make life easy for over 60 lakh taxpayers who will come under the government's proposed goods and services tax regime.

The Goods and Service Tax Network, a special purpose vehicle setup by the government will start soliciting bids from large system integrators "by the end of this month or early April," Prakash Kumar, who is leading the initiative told ET.

As the government races against time to roll out the ambitious goods and services tax regime by April 2016, the technology platform will play a crucial role.

"This could have a bigger impact than any other technology systems the government has built so far," said Pramod Varma, Chief Architect of the Unique Identification Authority of India.

The new portal and technology backbone being built to enable over 60 lakh taxpayers file returns will be based on an "API based" system, as recommended by Nandan Nilekani's report to the earlier government. "All the interactions to the system with the outside world will be through APIs and there will be separate rule engine so that frequent changes can be accommodated quickly," Prakash Kumar, Chief Executive Officer at Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) told ET.

But to roll out the system in time will not be easy. Sample the complexity involved: When the portal goes live, over 60 lakh registered dealers will go online. The number is set to grow at 10% every year. Nearly 66000 state department and 36000 tax department users users will also need to access to the portal.

"Imagine a vendor selling goods or services generating an invoice and taxes being updated at the same time all electronically," said Varma who is working closely with the GSTN team. Once the platform is built, private players and state governments can build their own applications over the network.

A startup like Cleartax, for instance, can build user experiences on top of the platform and make it easier for taxpayers. "A platform like this will be completely change the way taxes are filed in the country," said Archit Gupta, CEO & Founder of Cleartax.

Officials race against time to roll out Goods and Service Tax Network

The Goods and Services Tax Network will also rope in software product think tank Ispirt, to build an ecosystem of developers and startups around the tax platform. In February, chief executive Kumar met with a set up startup including Cleartax to discuss the roll out.

The Aadhaar technology backbone was built on a similar concept, where access to the Aadhaar backbone is allowed through application programmers interfaces or a standard set of routines and protocols. Third party developers are allowed restricted access to the Aadhaar backbone to build applications of their own.

The goods and service tax network, a state owned non profit set-up to roll out the technology platform will begin soliciting bids from system integrator Kumar said. A budget of over Rs 300 crore has been set aside.

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