GST impact: E-way bills not reducing transporters' cost and travel time

After a wait for 72 hours, Devender Kumar finally received the required e-way bills to ply his truck from Delhi to Lucknow on Saturday morning. A private trucker, he works on contract with a big logistics company which regularly gives him delivery assignments. Saturday’s task was to deliver the consignment of consumer goods within 12 hours.

Kumar, however, wasn’t entirely pleased. He told this reporter on the way to Lucknow that a waiting period of 48-72 hours is normal for truckers at depots because e-way bills aren’t released on time by companies. More, the documents are sometimes so cumbersome that truckers have to spend an extra hour at the depot to simply understand what each bill stands for.

E-way bills were launched on April 1 this year as part of the new goods and service tax (GST) regime, to reduce the travel time of vehicles by removing the individual transit pass systems applied by each state. These bills are supposed to be generated by either the transporter or sender of goods for each consignment more than Rs 50,000 in value. Transporters, however, have to generate e-way bills for each invoice in the consignment, even if the original sender has not. This is a big headache for Ajay at the transportation depot. 

As he generated multiple e-way bills, one for each invoice on a computer in a non-distinct room, he blamed the government for not paying enough attention to transporters’ problems. “Each truck requires at least two hours of documentation work to be able to get out of the depot. How is the new system more efficient?” he asked. 

Ajay concedes that illegal transportation of goods and corruption at state tax offices have reduced. However, he adds, as a transportation company they would prefer changes to reduce the workload of generating, verifying and providing each trucker the required e-way bills.

The challenge of educating drivers is so big that most are scared of inspection and often take long detours to escape an inspector asking questions on a major highway, Devender said, as he skipped the new Agra-Lucknow expressway in favour of the wobbly roads of UP’s hinterlands. The detour through the villages took an extra four hours in travel time on that stretch and Devender still could not evade inspection. Because of road-building work on the state bypass, the truck moved to the state highway, where officers stopped the truck and asked to see documents right after a toll gate. 

It took almost 45 minutes of explaining each piece of the invoice and its relevance on Devender’s part to get the inspector to let him go. However, that did not happen before photocopies of his invoices and e-way bills were made very quickly at a nearby tentpole kiosk that appeared to have been set up for solely this purpose. 

“If I spend 45 minutes at each checkpoint and find three checkpoints on a 600-km route to Lucknow, I get delayed by two hours anyway,” Devender said, justifying his long detour.

However, luck was not on his side. A second party of inspection officers stood right outside the entry for Agra city, stopping trucks selectively; Devender got called. The drill was the same, except that Devender was also asked about the exact quantity and brand of goods in the consignment, something he could not explain. A quick call had to be made to Ajay back at the depot, who spoke to the inspector and satisfied his queries. 

Even toll booths at different points of the Delhi-Lucknow route are hotbeds of rampant corruption. Truckers carrying heavy vehicles get themselves a receipt meant for light commercial vehicles. The difference in cost is about Rs 300 on a typical intra-state toll. Of this, they pay the toll executive Rs 100 for his favour and pocket the extra Rs 200. The transport companies usually give the drivers cash on the basis of the correct vehicle category and not what they get billed for.

“This is all we actually make in our journeys. It pays for our cost of food through the trip,” Devender said. 

Two checkpoints and two hours later, Devender decided to completely give up on highways and steered through small towns and villages like Auraiya, Faizabad, and Shikohabad to enter Kanpur at around 2 am, finally arriving at Lucknow’s Transport Nagar at 4 am, battling sleep and slow traffic due to road construction work. 

“If it takes eight hours extra to deliver a consignment, then what is the problem in delivering it 16 hours later and allow the driver to catch a night’s break somewhere?” he asked as he prepared to sleep in his truck till the morning. “E-way bills should have made it easier for us but transporters now have the excuse of not having the documents in time to force us to run for long hours on short notice.”

A Long Road Ahead

  • E-way bills were launched on April 1 to replace state transit passes
  • 1,70,000 bills were generated in the first three days
  • The portal had multiple issues and crashed many times before the system stabilised
  • E-way bills are supposed to help in inspection and reduce travel times
  • However, ground reports indicate that the generation of bills take a long time
  • Even one inspection can take 45 minutes, according to truckers
  • A 600 km route, through three states, will usually have two-three inspection points

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