The GST System Project is a unique and complex IT initiative. It is unique as it seeks, for the first time to establish a uniform interface for the tax payer and a common and shared IT infrastructure between the Centre and States. Currently, the Centre and State indirect tax administrations work under different laws, regulations, procedures and formats and consequently the IT systems work as independent sites. Integrating them for GST implementation would be complex since it would involve integrating the entire indirect tax ecosystem so as to bring all the tax administrations (Centre, State and Union Territories) to the same level of IT maturity with uniform formats and interfaces for taxpayers and other external stakeholders. Besides, GST being a destination based tax, the inter- state trade of goods and services (IGST) would 244 need a robust settlement mechanism amongst the States and the Centre. This is possible only when there is a strong IT Infrastructure and Service back bone which enables capture, processing and exchange of information amongst the stakeholders (including taxpayers, States and Central Government, Bank and RBI)
This aspect was discussed in the 4th meeting of 2010 of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers held on 21/7/2010. In the said meeting the EC approved creation of an ‘Empowered Group on IT Infrastructure for GST’ (referred as EG) under the chairmanship of Dr. Nandan Nilekani along with Additional Secretary (Rev), Member (B&C) CBEC, DG (Systems), CBEC, FA Ministry of Finance, Member Secretary EC and five state commissioners of Trade Taxes (Maharashtra, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal and Gujarat). The Group was mandated to suggest, inter alia, the modalities for setting up a National Information Utility (NIU/ SPV) for implementing the Common Portal to be called GST Network (GSTN) and recommend the structure and terms of reference for the NIU/ SPV, detailed implementation strategy and the road map for its creation in addition to other items like training, outreach etc.
In March 2010, TAGUP constituted by the Ministry of Finance had recommended that National Information Utilities should be set up as private companies with a public purpose for implementation of large and complex Government IT projects including GST. Mandate of TAGUP was to examine the technological and systemic issues 245 relating to the various IT projects such as GST, TIN, NPS, etc.
The EG had seven meetings between 2nd August 2010 and 8th August 2011 to discuss the modalities. After due deliberations, the EG recommended creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle for implementing the GST System Project. To enable efficient and reliable provision of services in a demanding environment, the EG recommended a non- Government structure for the GSTN SPV with Government equity of 49% (Centre – 24.5% and States – 24.5%) after considering key parameters such as independence of management, strategic control of Government, flexibility in organizational structure, agility in decision making and ability to hire and retain competent human resources.
In view of the sensitivity of the role of GSTN and the information that would be available with it, the EG also considered the issue of strategic control of Government over GSTN. The Group recommended that strategic control of the Government over the SPV should be ensured through measures such as composition of the Board, mechanisms of Special Resolution and Shareholders Agreement, induction of Government officers on deputation, and agreements between GSTN SPV and Governments. Also, the shareholding pattern would ensure that the Centre individually and States collectively are the largest stakeholders at 24.5% each. In combination, the Government shareholding at 49% would far exceed that of any single private institution.
EG also brought out the need to have technology specification to run this company so that there is 100 percent 246 matching of returns. The business knowledge resides with the officials of Government of India and States. However, professionals with sophisticated technology knowledge will be required to run this company independently, similar to NSDL which is working professionally and independently. EG also recommended a non-government company as that will have operational freedom.
These recommendations were presented before the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers in its 3rd meeting of 2011 held on 19th August 2011 and in the 4th meeting of 2011 of the EC held on 14th Oct 2011. The proposal of the EG on IT infrastructure for GST regarding GSTN and formation of a non-profit section 25 company with the strategic control with the Government were approved by the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers (EC) in its meeting held on14.10.11.
The note of Department of Revenue for setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle to be called Goods and Services Tax Network on the lines mentioned above was considered by the Union Cabinet on 12th April 2012 and approved. The Union cabinet also approved the following:
- Suitable and willing non-government institutions will be identified and firmed up by the Ministry of Finance to invest in GSTN-SPV prior to its incorporation.
- The strategic control of the Government over the SPV would be ensured through measures such as composition of the Board, mechanisms of Special Resolution and Shareholders 247 Agreement, induction of Government officers on deputation, and agreements between GSTN SPV and Governments.
- The Board of Directors of GSTN SPV would comprise 14 Directors with 3 Directors from the Centre, 3 from the States, a Chairman of the Board of Directors appointed through a joint approval mechanism of Centre and States, 3 Directors from private equity stake holders, 3 independent Directors who would be persons of eminence and a CEO of the GSTN SPV selected through an open selection process.
- Relaxation in relevant rules to enable deputation of Government officers to the GSTN SPV for exercise of strategic control and for bringing in necessary domain expertise.
- GSTN SPV would have a self- sustaining revenue model, where it would be able to levy user charges on the tax payers and the tax authorities availing services.
- GSTN SPV to be the exclusive national agency responsible for delivering integrated indirect Tax related services involving multiple tax authorities. Accordingly, any other service provider seeking to deliver similar integrated services would be required to enter into a formal arrangement with GSTN SPV for the services.
- A one- time non- recurring Grant- in aid of Rs. 315 crore from the Central Government towards 248 expenditure for the initial setting up and functioning of the SPV for a three year period after incorporation.
In compliance of the Cabinet decision, GST Network was registered as a not-for-profit, private limited company under section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 with the following equity structure:
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The GSTN in its current form was created after taking after approval of Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers and Union Government after due deliberations over a long period of time.