Customs dept to launch faceless assessment of consignments from Monday

The first phase will commence in Chennai and Bengaluru
In order to improve transparency and the ease of doing business, the customs department will on Monday roll out the first phase of the country-wide faceless assessmemt of consignments. Under the system, consignments will be assessed by officials electronically, irrespective of the port where the goods arrive.

The first phase will commence in Chennai and Bengaluru. It will cover a specific set of items and will be expanded across India by this calendar year-end.

"The Board has decided to begin faceless assessment in phases. The first phase would begin from June 8, 2020, in Bengaluru and Chennai for items of imports primarily covered by Chapters 84 and 85 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975," the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) said in a circular.

Chapter 84 and 85 of Customs Tarrif Act cover items including electrical machinery, boilers, nuclear reactors, television image and sound recorders, machinery and mechanical appliances.

The first phase of the roll out, would apply only to inter-linking of Bengaluru and Chennai Customs Zones.

Faceless Assessment shall be the norm pan India by December 31, 2020, CBIC further said.

The Income Tax (I-T) department started faceless e-assessment in October 2019 and completed the assessment of over 100 cases. It has sent notices in more than 48,000 cases so far.

The move will bring anonymity in assessment and cut down the physical interface between the assessing officer and the importer. It will ensure uniformity in assessments across the country and promote sector specific approach and functional specialisation, which will help reduce transaction costs and uncertainty in trade.

The CBIC had invited comments from stakeholders on its concept paper by March 3, 2020.

"Faceless assessment is a double edged sword. While on one hand it cuts down physical interface and bias, if any, on the other, it could be challenging for faceless assessment groups (FAG)  to understand the nuances of classification by merely perusing documents and without the importer being present to explain.” said Harpreet Singh, Partner, KPMG.

Rajat Mohan, partner, AMRG Associates said that the new era of faceless assessments would promote bias-free quality orders in the long run, even though there would be teething issues in the initial few months.

The move is also expected to help further improve India’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. India’s overall rank improved to 63 last year — a jump of 14 places — and on the ‘trading across borders’ criterion, it improved to the 68 — a jump of 12 places.

Introduction of faceless assessment is part of the string of reforms called ‘Turant’ Customs, which include paperless customs through intelligent e-Sanchit and Machine Release or end-to-end automated clearance without any interface of officer at any stage.

For the roll-out in Bengaluru and Chennai Zones, the principal chief commissioner/chief commissioner have been asked to put in place faceless assessment groups, port assessment groups and turant suvidha kendras.

The first programme of faceless assessment was started in Chennai in August 2019 covering articles primarily falling under chapter 84 of the Customs Tariff Act 1975. Subsequently, similar pilot programmes were introduced in customs formations of Delhi, Bengaluru, Gujarat and Visakhapatnam for other articles as well.

The National Assessment Commissionerates will essentially be 'Virtual Commissionerates' wherein officers will be not be physically co-located, but virtually connected. Each NAC would have an all India jurisdiction and it would comprise of a cluster of “Faceless Assessment Groups” (FAGs), who will be legally empowered to undertake assessments pertaining to any customs location in India. The Customs Automated System would allocate the bills of entry to the officers who are part of those FAGs in a randomized manner for the purposes of assessment, irrespective of the port where the goods have arrived and a bill of entry has been filed for customs clearance.

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