Editorial

IT and IT

| Updated on August 28, 2021

The tax portal glitches highlight deficiencies in the process of awarding e-governance contracts

It is most unflattering to see a country that corners 55 per cent of all information technology contracts outsourced world-wide struggle to crack the code on a simple tax filing portal for its citizens. After grappling with GST Network’s idiosyncrasies for the last four years, India’s taxpayers are now having to wrestle with the newly revamped portal for income tax filings developed by software giant Infosys. From the very first day of its unveiling on June 7, users have complained of issues with logging in, generating OTPs and passwords and e-verifying returns, apart from calculation errors and incorrect capture of data from Form 16 and in Form 26AS, all of which has made tax filings for this year a tortuous process. Meetings between the Centre and Infosys have proved to be of limited avail. Ironically, the very purpose of revamping the portal was to improve its friendliness and functionality. The issue has since escalated with the Centre ‘summoning’ Infosys’ CEO for an explanation and senior software czars critiquing the poor economics of government contracts.

It is best that the teething troubles with the portal are sorted out across the table. Earlier experiments with roping in private software vendors to issue and renew passports, PAN cards and set up a digital backbone for banks have proved unqualified successes and made a genuine difference to citizens. Yet, to avoid situations such as the current one with the tax portal, the Centre needs to accord greater weightage to the bidder’s track record of successful implementation of e-governance projects in the past along with the financial bid. The obsession with L1 alone as the qualifying metric often causes trouble. In addition, the Centre must also make sure that the department charged with implementing the project shares definitive and detailed project specifications with the vendor and deputes domain experts to guide the developers. Software firms on their part, must avoid the trap of bidding unrealistically low prices to bag government contracts purely for their prestige value, only to later cut corners on the quality of manpower and time to keep within shoestring budgets.

For projects such as the income tax e-filing portal that impacts crores of users, the Centre must insist on multiple trial runs before the project goes live and allow both the old and revamped versions to co-exist for some time, so that users have an easy transition. It is still not too late to try out this solution with the income tax portal, while acceding to legitimate demands from taxpayers for extending its IT return filing deadlines.

Published on August 27, 2021

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