By Krishna Barad, Abhishek Singhania
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) initiated and implemented several reform measures in the recent past focusing on simplifying cross-border trade. India currently ranks 63rd in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Index, ascending 17 notches in a year. This was made possible due to the reduced time and cost of clearance of goods at various Customs ports owing to the implementation of measures such as SWIFT, e-Sanchit, revised AEO programme, RFID e-seal programme, etc. To bring in transparency, more digital acumen, and less human intervention, CBIC introduced the ‘Turant – Faceless Assessment’ for cross-border operations. This is also referred to as Electronic Custom Clearance in developed countries.
Why Faceless Assessment?
To meet the objective of providing a more efficient, transparent, and standardised Customs assessment experience, a fundamental change was necessary.
In the erstwhile system:
1. Despite having a centralised, automated IT framework for carrying out Customs assessment, the varying assessment structures in different zones did not have uniform and standardised Customs assessment practices.
2. The different structures were also found contributing to differences in the dwell time of cargo and challenges in bringing down the overall efficiency.
Faceless Assessment is being implemented taking into consideration the above-mentioned structures of Customs zones and Commissionerate’s by: –
1. Redefining the roles of Customs officers for assessment, examination, and other related processes
2. Bringing changes in ICES
3. Creating Faceless Assessment Groups (FAGs), Port Assessment Group (PAG), National
Assessment Centres (NACs) and Turant Suvidha Kendras (TSKs).
The main objectives of Faceless Assessment are
1. Anonymize the assessment process.
2. Remove the physical interface between Trade and Customs.
3. Ensure uniformity of assessment across locations.
4. Promote sector-specific and functional specialisation.
5. Improve workload for efficient utilisation of manpower and resources for Customs.
6. Automate end-to-end clearance process.
While this process change is considered a critical reform, it has created few challenges for importers:
1. It was expected that the implementation of Faceless Assessment in customs, would reduce the time and cost of clearance of goods. However, it is causing inordinate delays leading to additional costs to the importers.
2. Faceless Assessments have adversely impacted businesses of Custom Brokers/Custom
House Agents thus resulting in resistance to change.
It thus becomes imperative that proper coordination and interaction is necessary between Trade and Customs Officials to make this initiative a success. Since the Government is determined to roll out such facilitation measures, businesses need to embrace the new mechanism of assessment wholeheartedly. This would require importers to complete the customs assessment process diligently and be certain about the product classification, customs duty rate and valuation of the imported products as it can be tested by new sets of officers, who were not dealing with assessment earlier.
(Krishna Barad is Partner and Abhishek Singhania is Director, Customs and International Trade, BDO India. Views expressed are the authors’ own.)