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Bengal comes to Grips with e-payments

Calcutta, Oct. 10: The Mamata Banerjee government has unveiled an electronic receipt system that allows citizens to pay taxes and make deposits to the state without grappling with queues, holidays, paperwork and middlemen.

The e-receipt portal called Grips (Government Receipt Portal System) is aimed at introducing transparency and simplicity and seeks to spread the reach of some of the online facilities that are already available to Calcuttans. The portal is developed by the state finance department along with the National Informatics Centre.

Inaugurating the portal at Writers’ Buildings this morning in the presence of representatives of the Reserve Bank of India and various nationalised banks, finance minister Amit Mitra said the move would “revolutionise” the process of making payments to the state government.

“Sitting in your living room, on a Sunday night, you’re simply going to go online, fill in the details, get a unique ID and make your payment. The money will be credited instantly and you’ll receive your e-receipt immediately,” Mitra said.

The new process, if implemented effectively, will mark a sweeping change from the existing processes that involve queuing up for hours at government offices to procure challans, fill them up and make payments, often with the help of middlemen, after consulting lawyers or accountants.

Not only is the existing system tedious and time-consuming, it is also riddled with corruption as often bribes have to be paid to procure receipts.

The finance minister hopes that the new system of paying taxes, dues and fines in a secure, online environment will help eliminate intermediaries. “This could help obliterate dalal raj (rule of touts). The simplification of the process and the elimination of the need to visit government offices to make payments, from road taxes to land dues, will do away with the problem of having to deal with middlemen,” Mitra said.

“This is a very big step in e-governance, something our chief minister has been stressing. This will help immensely in centralising payments, preventing fraud and facilitating small businesses,” Mitra added.

He said the system would be put in place in all government departments by December 31. “Every minute, the treasury will know who’s paying how much,” Mitra said, adding that the existing system would run concurrently with the new one.

Some of the online facilities, such as paying property tax to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and fines to police for breaking traffic rules, are available in Calcutta because of separate programmes. But the finance department’s portal is intended at taking the initiative across the state and making it more comprehensive.

Bengal is the second state after Odisha to introduce such an online collection mechanism, a state government official said.

In July, Mitra had hinted that an online payment system would be introduced. He had cited an Asian Development Bank study in 2004-05 that had found that the tax system in Bengal was inefficient as the state exchequer was losing 45 to 50 per cent in collections because of non-compliance.

Although the government is seeking to achieve greater tax compliance through Grips, the finance department is yet to come up with a projection of the impact the system could have on collections by the end of the fiscal year.

“We don’t have a projection yet. A higher tax mop-up isn’t the central objective of this reform. We’re looking at no leveraging, no coercion, no bribes, no intermediaries and no harassment in making payments to the government. This will bring in a greater amount of transparency,” Mitra said.

After coming to power, the Trinamul government had opted for e-governance in tax administration. The government has already introduced e-registration under VAT and central sales tax, and payment of salaries and VAT refunds through the electronic clearing system.

“Because of such measures, compliance has gone up. In the preceding year of our coming to power, the government had collected Rs 21,000 crore in tax. It increased to Rs 25,000 crore in 2011-12. By the end of this fiscal, we’re looking at Rs 31,000 crore in taxes,” Mitra said.