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Bharti Airtel rolls out tax tool for small companies in India

Telecoms compete to offer GST help to traders struggling with new rules

India's new goods and services tax has spurred telecom companies to develop products and services to help small businesses with the paperwork. (Photo by Kiran Sharma)

NEW DELHI -- Indian IT companies are trying to cash in on the country's new and complex goods and services tax regime that took effect July 1.

In the most recent move, Indian telecom company Bharti Airtel has launched a service aimed at helping small businesses and startups file their tax returns digitally, which it says will help them avoid laborious procedures.

Bharti Airtel's B2B arm, Airtel Business, has partnered with online tax filing platform ClearTax to provide the service, called GST Advantage. It is available to all Airtel Business customers free of charge until March 2018.

ClearTax offers cloud-based tools to help businesses with their GST needs, such as creating invoices, filing returns and performing reconciliation. "We would like to enable small businesses with free filing of returns, and free and secure data access," said Ashok Ganapathy, director and chief executive of Airtel Business, on Thursday.

Airtel is also the data hosting and connectivity partner for the Goods and Services Network, or GSTN, which manages the IT systems for the new taxation regime.

Touted as India's biggest indirect tax reform since independence from British rule in 1947, the multitiered GST did away with more than a dozen complicated levies. Various goods and services are now taxed at one of four rates -- 5%, 12%, 18%, or 28%.

State-run telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam, and Reliance Jio Infocomm, the wireless venture of Reliance Industries, have also launched products and services aimed at helping businesses with tax compliance, seizing the opportunity offered by the GST to expand.

Traders' woes

These tools could help millions of traders who are scrambling to file their invoice details for July. Many have complained of technical glitches and confusing procedures.

The government loosened the rules for filing for the first two months after the tax took effect. It has now extended the deadline for filing July sales figures, originally set for Sept. 5, to Sept. 10 after the GSTN portal crashed on Monday due to heavy traffic.

Taxpayers are required to file three returns every month: a statement detailing sales of goods and services, one providing information on purchases of supplies, and a consolidated statement. After sales details are sent, the next two documents are generated automatically, which the taxpayer must verify and submit electronically.

"Traders encountered a lot of difficulty in logging in to the GST Network on Sept. 5. The portal remained mostly nonfunctional," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary-general of the Confederation of All India Traders, adding that about 8.7 million merchants have registered under the GST so far.

The confederation, which represents about 60 million traders, also issued a statement demanding a thorough technology audit of the GST portal and that the system function properly. "If this level of technology failure is repeated, the GST will prove to be a nightmare not only for the traders but [also] for government, since revenue-generation is largely dependent upon successful operation of the portal," it said.

Even when the portal is working correctly, it indicates errors without providing details, the statement said, adding the GSTN's assurance that it can process about 3 billion vouchers a month has "proved to be a hollow claim."

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