April 14

Govt allows paperless customs clearance from Wednesday

The speedy import of goods such as APIs is expected to immensely help industry in conducting business amid the Covid-19 lockdown, which was on Tuesday extended till May 3.

The government will allow paperless customs clearances and permit electronic submission of documents starting on Wednesday to speed up imports, particularly of raw materials like active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used in manufacturing medicines, to help domestic industry as it battles the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

“The aforementioned reforms combine to expedite customs clearances and reduce the transaction cost,” said a circular issued on April 13 by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), an arm of the finance ministry. A copy of the circular was reviewed by Hindustan Times.

These steps complement the “turant” (instant) scheme including answers to online queries, eSanchit (paperless processing, uploading of supporting documents), web-based goods registration, electronic processing of licenses, machine -based release of imported goods based on customs compliance verification, and electronic transmission of PDF-based first copy of bill of entry (BoE) to customs brokers and registered importers, it said.

Turant is an ongoing exercise of the CBIC to expedite its systems and processes. It was introduced in February last year as a next generation reform to push up India’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Index wherein “trading across borders” is a critical component of the evaluation of a country’s performance, according to a February 28, 2019 CBIC circular.

The steps are “in line with the ease of doing business measures undertaken by India in terms of reduction of dwell time and move towards faceless assessment which seeks to reduce physical interface between customs and trade. Hence, it is one more positive step towards India’s commitment to the trade facilitation agreement,” said Rahul Shukla, executive director--indirect tax, PwC India.

Explaining the rationale behind the launch of the paperless system such as electronic documents and eGatepass, the circular said the specific measures to reduce interface between the customs authorities and exporters or importers are “especially relevant in these challenging times” in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This electronic communication would reduce interface between the Customs authorities and the importers/customs brokers and also do away with the requirement of taking bulky printouts from the Service Centre or maintenance of voluminous physical dockets in the Customs Houses,” the circular said.

As of now, physical signing of the final Out of Charge (OoC) copy of bill of entry (BoE) is insisted on at many customs locations. This necessitates the importer or customs broker to take a paper printout from the service centre to be produced before the customs officer.

“It has now been decided to do away with the paper printout,” the circular said. Instead, the systems will immediately email a PDF version of the documents, digitally signed and with encrypted QR codes that can be scanned to verify their authenticity.

The new system will also generate an electronic gate pass. Currently, such documents are physically signed and verified by a Gate Officer as well as a Custodian before allowing the actual movement of the imported goods out of the customs premises. “This physical printout is now being replaced by the PDF eGatepass generated and electronically communicated to the importer/customs brokers,” the circular said.

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