Convinced that bolstering investments is key to efficient handling of the current complex political-economy, the UPA government has embarked on a many-pronged plan to remove irritants to potential investors and improve the country’s business environment.
Following a series of steps to promote financial savings and the plan to set up a National Investment Board to fast-track infrastructure projects, it has now made major headway in securing consent of most departments for an ambitious plan to set up a one-stop shop — called the e-Biz project — for investors to get various approvals, compliance certificates and make related payments.
According to sources, the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) has approved the standard operating procedure of the e-Biz automated payment gateway and nine central government agencies, including the departments of industrial policy and promotion and labour, Employees’ State Insurance Corporation and the Central Board of Direct Taxes, have agreed to integrate their services with the project.
Sources added a clutch of other departments/agencies – including the Central Board of Excise and Customs, corporate affairs, Directorate General of Foreign Trade, the Reserve Bank of India – too are likely to join the platform shortly. Though the ministry of environment & forests refused to be part of the composite approval package, it has agreed to join through a hyperlink. Efforts are on to link land-related clearances and transactions.
As per a schedule finalised earlier this week following the crucial CGA nod, the project will be soft-launched in five states – Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana – in March 2013 where 160 services related to businesses and investors in these states will be integrated to the government-to-business (G2B) portal of the project.
The ‘licence and permit wizard’ of the portal will also be ready for approvals and payments related to licences, permits and no-objection certificates, apart from information on the mandatory one-time approvals and details about periodic filings/compliances.
This will be followed by a full launch in these states in September when 18 central government services and 47 services in the five pilot states as well as a full-fledged payment gateway will be operational. In the next 10 years, over 200 services will be added. By June 2014, the project will cover Orissa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan also.
In the meantime, Infosys – which is designing and developing the e-Biz platform – has been asked to integrate the project with as many banks as possible, the sources said.
The government is holding talks with the Comptroller and Auditor General to get its approval for the state government receipts on payments made by investors to be integrated into the system.
The approval of the CGA – which is in charge of collecting receipts related to the central government – for the project follows a series of discussions that the government had with the department of information technology, the RBI and public sector banks.
The payment gateway will facilitate all payments to be collected at a single window on the portal and then it will be split and transferred to the respective government agencies right up to the local level. The system will also generate challans and MIS reports.
Currently, investors in the country require to take approvals from multiple agencies and the cumbersome procedures force them to often depend on middlemen, besides having to pay numerous visits to different departments and fill multiple forms after poring over many Acts, rules and procedures, all of which lead to delays and huge costs.
No wonder, on the World Bank’s scale of ease of starting a business, India ranked an unflattering 173 among 185 economies.
The e-Biz facility is a big extension of the many other such electronic platforms being created in recent years including the MCA-21 for corporate filings and the integrated facility for direct and indirect tax matters.
The project aims to help businesses and investors right from the start of their operations and through the full life cycle of the business including clearances at the local, state and central levels.
These include for the starting up (approvals, clearances, registrations), operations (filing taxes and returns, compliance and permits), expansion (approvals and submission of compliance), and close of business (clearances and compliance).
"The e-Biz project will allow a radical shift in governance from being department-centric to investor-centric. It aims to achieve horizontal integration across different government verticals, giving the investor the convenience of dealing with all government departments in one portal," say sources.
The investor will get updated information on the required approvals and compliances on the G2B portal, which he can access from anywhere round the clock. He will also get status updates through email and SMS. With the system needing digital signatures, the transactions will be totally secure as per international standards.