After a well-publicised summons, finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman asked Salil Parekh, managing director (MD) and chief executive (CEO) of Infosys Ltd to resolve the issues faced by the taxpayers on the Income Tax (I-T) e-filing portal by 15th September. While the government has indeed raised the pitch, the final action was a disappointment to many chartered accountants (CAs) and taxpayers, who wonder what happens if issues persist after the new deadline.
Although Ms Sitharaman had conveyed to Mr Parekh the deep disappointment and concerns of the government, it must be remembered that the tax portal has been problematic for two-and-a-half months since its launch leading to a waste of time and resources not to mention the extraordinary stress that is induced due to draconian penalties imposed by the tax authorities for delays or explanations.
The finance ministry has asked Infosys to explain repeated issues faced by users and to put more effort and resources into rectifying problems and was assured by Mr Parekh that Infosys is “working expeditiously towards ensuring a glitch-free experience”.
He is reported to have told the minister that over 750 team members are working on this project with Pravin Rao, the chief operating officer (COO) of Infosys, personally overseeing it.
The tax portal launched with much fanfare on 7th June to make tax filing easier for people has faced issues from the very first day. In July, the finance ministry asked the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to constitute a seven-member task force to investigate the technical issues facing the new I-T e-filing portal developed by Infosys. Moneylife has been receiving and publishing representations from CA bodies across India outlining problems faced by members.
While the public humiliation of being ‘summoned’ by the finance minister to explain itself is a step in the right direction, there are several important issues on which the government continues to remain silent.
For instance, this is the fourth major technology project by Infosys, involving statutory filings that has been launched without adequate testing and inflicted enormous harassment on people, especially CA and company secretaries.
The first three are the MCA21 of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), which was a major embarrassment for months after a big-bang midnight launch in parliament and the UIDAI networks still involves significant delays when it comes to updating records.
The government owes and explanation to people about why none of these were held against Infosys. Was it because the government us guilty of bad specifications, frequent changes, inadequate testing or in an inordinate hurry to launch these projects without proper checks and debugging? If so, why aren’t officials involved in commissioning the projects and clearing them for launch held accountable?
According to a technology expert with experience of dealing with large projects, it is easy to blame the government but Infosys’ failure to insist on processes suggests a failure to cope with the enormity of the work involved and deliver the desired performance or take care of functional bugs.
He says, “When the portals go live and the digital workflow is initiated the digital processes in the workflow break up and don’t allow the transaction to go through thereby frustrating the user experience. This happens when the software is not adequately tested through all user scenarios and shortcomings are discovered only when the portal goes live and users are frustrated.”
He also says that fixing the discovered bugs after launch also causes more bugs to creep in, compounding the problem and the embarrassment of the service provider”. But wouldn’t this be reason enough for an experienced tech giant like Infosys to have ensured adequate testing and debugging before the launch – at least the fourth time around. But this question has not been asked or answered as yet by Infosys or the respective ministries.
Remember, the testing and certification of readiness of such large statutory reporting portals needs diligent and vigorous processes and are the collective responsibility of the government and the service provider.
Some CAs have been pointing out on social media that another large tech company – TCS Ltd had set up and was running both, the I-T e-filing as well as MCA 21 portals without any serious complaints before the platforms changed hands and Infosys won bids to revamp and run them.
In both cases, we learn that Infosys submitted a lower bid, does it mean it mis-calculated costs and resources required? And does it make sense to accept the lowest bidder from a service provider who has failed to deliver adequately in the past? And can we continue to have systems which inflict so much pain on users without any accountability or punishment?
During the recent Monsoon Session of the Parliament, minister of state for finance, Pankaj Chaudhary, said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha that Infosys has been paid a total of Rs164.5 crore under the project.
He had said that the government has launched the new income tax e-filing portal as part of the Integrated E-filing and Centralised Processing Centre 2.0 Project.