Even as Infosys announced expansion of its team dealing with the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) last week, senior officials in the finance ministry are of the view that the IT firm slipped on its commitment to the GSTN project, the IT backbone of the new indirect tax regime.
Government officials, closely involved in the GST rollout, said that inept handling of the GSTN by Infosys, amid leadership vacuum at the helm during a crucial stage of rollout resulted in a series of technical glitches.
The handling of the project got affected when several senior Infosys employees involved in the GSTN left for better opportunities amid the administrative churning that followed CEO Vishal Sikka’s exit, a senior official said. “Infosys itself was having so much of administrative issues within the company that a lot of important people who were working on the GSTN project, which is a pride for the country and a very important project. They were not able to hold on to these people when there was lot of infighting within the company since they had better options outside. As a employee, I’ll go wherever there is work, but the head of Infosys has to worry about this,” the official said.
Issues also cropped up when the GSTN project team members got replaced by relatively inexperienced Infosys employees, who didn’t have much knowledge about the GST-related laws and therefore, there was delay in preparing utilities before the deadlines announced by the GST Council. “People have left and very inexperienced people have come in. There were many issues related to committee dates, deadlines etc. You might be a wizard in computer software but here you have to understand many things. If you don’t understand the law, you won’t understand what you have to provide, what kind of problems are there, you can’t do those algorithms which are required,” the official said.
Infosys, when contacted by The Indian Express, denied this saying the “information you have received is completely inaccurate”. In its response to specific queries, Infosys, however, said, “Given the complex nature of the project and rapid change (in) management, there have been several stakeholder concerns that have also been raised”. “Some of our finest engineers are supporting the GSTN team as they work towards resolving these and serving all stakeholders,” the company said.
Another finance ministry official said that though the government has defended Infosys publically, everyone knew the glitch was with the handling of GSTN project by Infosys. “They defended Infosys publically but everyone knew where the glitch was. People don’t see Infosys, they see GSTN. This was a project where Infosys could have taken pride,” the official said.
Infosys in its response to detailed queries sent by The Indian Express, said that it is “very proud to be associated with the prestigious GST project which is the largest tax project of its kind in the world”. “Any large project of this scale, especially a transformative one like this has to deal with changes in both policy and stakeholder usability. Some of these modifications have resulted in rapid changes to the system particularly due to its integration with heterogeneous IT ecosystems including GST Suvidha Providers, Aadhaar, Central Board of Excise and Customs and Model 1 states,” the IT company said in its response.
Infosys also said, “The system has already demonstrated success across several parameters – till date 37 crore invoices have been uploaded on the system while the system is designed to handle 300 to 320 crore invoices every month. 70 lakh taxpayers have successfully migrated to the new system and the country has recorded 25 lakh new registered taxpayers. Central and state level tax regimes have been integrated with all 29 states and 7 Union territories successfully migrating onto this system. In addition, the system is able to manage one lakh active users and saw peak loads during the last two days of filing, with 50 per cent of the filings done in that timeframe and 70 per cent of the collection achieved with just 25 per cent of server utilisation, demonstrating the system’s ability to manage scale.”
Queries sent to the GSTN did not elicit any response.
Infosys was awarded a five year contract worth Rs 1,380 crore to develop GSTN in September 2015. Many technical glitches have been at the core of the GST rollout since July 1 due to which several states had raised the issues being faced by taxpayers in the 21st GST Council meeting on September 9. Subsequently, a five-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Bihar’s deputy chief minister Sushil Modi was constituted to monitor technology-related implementation issues of GST. The GoM held its first meeting in Bengaluru on September 16 where it identified 27 issues and asked Infosys to sort them.
After the first GoM meeting, Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia had absolved Infosys, the vendor for GSTN, of any blame for the numerous GSTN-related glitches, saying that they are delivering “very well”. “I don’t think they (Infosys as a vendor of GSTN) have failed. We can’t conclude like that…they are delivering very well. Only thing is that there are initial hiccups and issues which we have to sort out with them. It’s not like there have been mass scale failures by them. Not at all,” Adhia had said. Also, the panel’s head, Modi, at that time had said that 70-80 per cent of the GSTN-related issues would get resolved by October-end.
After the GoM’s third meeting on October 28, Modi said that 18 of the 27 GSTN-related functionalities with October 30 as deadline had been operationalised. “27 functionalities had to be launched or issues had to be resolved by Infosys, out of which 18 of them have been operationalised. This is about 66.7 per cent success. Infosys is doing their best, even though there were many changes made by the GST Council,” PTI quoted him as saying.
The GoM had also raised the issues faced by businesses in different states and asked Infosys to deploy their engineers there. “We had earlier asked Infosys to deploy engineers in major states by October 30. They have done so in 9 states and sought time till November end to deploy in other states,” Modi said.
He had further said “…Infosys has put their best manpower and they have assured that in the coming days they will deploy more people. They have already deployed more than 100 people from their team of IT professionals.” “We have also asked them to deploy best talent and experienced people in the team.”