Manifesting constant endeavour to promote a conducive environment for international trade

While attending an event last month, we learnt that during a recent visit to a foreign nation, Atul Singh – Additional Director (ICEGATE), Director General of Systems, CBIC was told that India’s Customs Department was far more advanced than many other Customs Administration across the globe. We knew instantly we had to rope him in for an exclusive interview. Sitting in his comfortable cabin on a hot summer day, we had an illuminating, yet short and simplified conversation about ICEGATE and CBIC’s ongoing evolution – the readjustments and polishing that ICEGATE went through to facilitate a daily average of 45,000 filings, INR 1,400 crore online duty collection, INR 150 crore IGST refunds, INR 450 crore of e-scrips and around 85 lakh hits on their website; serving an average of 1.25 lakh registered users every day comprising Importer-Exporters, Custom House Agents, Partner Government Agencies, Shipping Lines/Airlines, Shipping Agents/ Air/Console Agents, Ports/ICDs/CFSs, etc. Read on for excerpts.

Q] Customs is one of the most important regulatory bodies when it comes to international trade. Can you briefly tell us about how CBIC has evolved postpandemic in terms of its new role as a facilitator?

Indian Customs Electronic/EDI Gateway (ICEGATE) is the national customs portal of CBIC, through which, fillings for around 254 customs locations across the country are handled. It has been a constant endeavour of CBIC to promote a facilitated business environment for international trade where cost and time can be reduced. Few measures taken during the pandemic are as under:

  • 24×7 custom clearance facility was implemented at all custom formations to avoid any supply chain disruption
  • A dedicated single window COVID-19 helpdesk for EXIM trade was created on the CBIC website to facilitate quick resolution of issue(s) faced by importer/ exporter
  • A nodal officer was assigned in each customs zone of India who can be approached for any issue pertaining to the clearance of cargo
  • Pandemic had created the need of minimal human interference and maximum work. CBIC considers this as an opportunity to assign the OOC (Out of Charge) work, so far performed by an officer to the EDI system. The machine-based automated release of import consignments was launched pan India
  • Drive to expeditiously process all pending customs refund and drawback claims in order to provide immediate relief to business entities, especially MSMEs

Also, during the pandemic, multiple online services were rolled out on ICEGATE, while ensuring there was no glitch during the unprecedented nationwide lock down. ICEGATE was the SPOC for all EXIM related queries of trade across ministries. Overnight utilities were deployed for trade, to prioritize movement of COVID materials coming from various destinations.

Q] GST was implemented to improve the logistics ease of doing business by eliminating multiple tax points and introducing a single e-way bill. According to you, in the last 5 years, has it revamped the face of the Indian logistics industry the way it was expected to?

GST has successfully implemented the vision of ‘one nation one tax’ concept. Today there is no disparity on the tax rates of the same nature of sale occurring in multiple states. Multiple taxes collected by various stakeholders during the movement of goods have gone away with introduction of GST, which saves a lot of cost and time for the trade. ICEGATE is integrated with GSTN through API wherein the data is shared across the agencies on a real time basis. IGST refund on export does not require separate refund applications to be filed – the shipping bill itself becomes the application. Once processed, the refund is directly credited to the beneficiary bank account. The whole process is end to end automated. On the import side, duties paid are seamlessly shared with GSTN which is available to the users as a credit in their account.

Q] Give us an insight into ICEGATE’s integration with ULIP and NSWS, and how it is going to expedite the EXIM movement on various points of entry and exit.

ICEGATE is completely integrated with ULIP as well as NSWS through APIs. The integration of NSWS with ICEGATE is a significant step towards the making of Atma Nirbhar Bharat. Manufacturing and other operations in Warehouse Regulations Scheme is promoted through this integration. Under this scheme manufacturers can import raw material and capital goods and export finished goods, availing certain exemptions. All applications requiring licenses under this scheme can be applied through the NSWS. The same travels digitally to the ICEGATE, and is made available to the Custom Officers. Once approved it is communicated back to the applicant through NSWS portal. It is an end to end digitized application. ICEGATE-ULIP integration would help the complete logistical exercise that originates at the buyers end and involves multiple agencies including buyer, seller, freight forwarder, transporters at various junctures, shipping lines, airlines, various governmental agencies, customs departments at various locations and financial institutions to complete the entire supply chain cycle. This integration would help having the end-to-end visibility into supply chains and advancing the accurate demand and efficient control over the inventory including real-time communication, coordination among various stakeholders in the supply chain and clarity on roles and responsibilities of diverse entities in the supply chain.

This is an abridged version of the original interview that was published in the May edition of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, get your copy of the magazine.

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