Thursday, February 23, 2012

A date with the Government

I believe I am an honest taxpayer. And I have enough papers to prove it. So in  due course of time, a day arrived when I had to go further and become an honest service-tax payer. I thus braced myself for a long-drawn battle with the system to get a service tax registration number. And since I have already made the claim to being an honest taxpayer, I did not wish to approach the matter through a tout/agent.
At the outset, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised that the whole system of getting a registration is now online. Wow. One would be tempted to say. That it took me seven visits to the office in spite of the system being online (or rather, because of it) is another matter. Anyway, to come to the point, the procedure sounds deceptively simple.
1. Go the homepage and create an account for yourself. You then get a login ID and a password - the customary stuff.
2. Then you login and fill up a form called ST-1 and click on 'Submit'. Then take a printout of the form... wait. Here's the first catch. If you have to really take a printout, you have to achieve quite above-average literacy in the world of computers, because there is NO straightforward method to either get a printout of ST-1 or getting a PDF version of it. But I managed that.
3. Then one has to go to the service tax office, wait in an interminably long queue (and it could takes several such visits - it took me three) and present the ST-1 with supporting documents (PAN, addr proof etc.) and submit it.
4. The officer promises you that the approval of ST-1 will happen in seven working days. Which means you have to wait for a week-and-a-half, and just hope that other meaningless holidays like Mahashivratri don't make the wait longer.
5. It comes as no surprise that nothing happens after seven (or many more) working days. I went after sixteen, and had to create a mild form of satyagrah in the office to get the officer to approve my application in front of me.
6. Once approved, one simply has to login again and take a printout of the much-desired and precious entity called Form ST-2. Child's play, one would imagine. But no.
7. When I eagerly logged in and, fingers quaking in anticipation, clicked on the link called 'View Latest ST-2', it asked for dates. From and To date.
That got me stumped. What dates was I supposed to put? I tried every conceivable date I could think of - date of application, date of approval, date of birth (Honest, I actually did that) but nothing worked. I tried to think logically and keyed in the start of last financial year, the date of me starting my business, but to no avail. I thought of all possible dates that would satisfy the system. 15th Aug 1947, 26th Jan 1950, 25th Jun 1983 (we won the 1st world cup), 15th  Nov 1989 (Sachin made his debut), 16th Dec 1971 (Pakistan surrendered in Dhaka). But no. I was afraid to enter any of these as I was afraid my laptop will suddenly clamp shut in anger at my stupidity and crush my already-weary fingers.
So it was another dreary trudge to the office, when I met the officer and explained to him my predicament. He simply answered - 1st Jan 1994. What???? Yes, he nonchalantly replied. You have to put 1st Jan 1994 as the From date and the current date as the To date.
What was worse, all through the conversation, he bore the countenance of someone who is instructing a toddler - (No dear, not that. You have to put the round peg in the round hole, see? Its really simple....
I fail to understand why 1st Jan 94. Fine, there may be nothing special about it, but then shouldn't there be a hint for me to enter that date?
In the next four hours I spent in the office getting my ST-2 form signed, I proceeded to ask the same question to three different officers. All of them looked at me as if I was an errant schoolboy telling the Principal that the school ought to employ more attractive and sexy young women as teachers, and simply proceeded to bury themselves into the morass of files that surrounded them.
At the end of it all, what the officers have achieved is that another honest taxpayer is going to pay 10.3% of his earnings into the Govt. coffers. Not bad.

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