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Faceless assessment causes delay in customs clearance

Industry urges government to waive off demurrage charges

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The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC)’s promotion of ‘Faceless, Contactless, Paperless Customs’ is resulting in delays of import-export shipment clearances.

It is envisioned as an initiative to promote ease of doing business with the secure electronic communication of the final Let Export Order (LEO) copy of the Shipping Bill and the Gate pass copy of Shipping Bill, which will help exporters to get the documents updated immediately. It is being rolled out in a phased manner, and the first phase of it has begun in Chennai and Bengaluru ports, now followed by other ports in the country as well.

However, the implementation of faceless assessment is resulting in delays of consignments leading to heavy demurrage charges on companies. Hence, the pharma industry is requesting the government authorities to waive off the demurrage charges, until it completely implemented in all the ports.

Reportedly, it is taking 15-20 days for a single consignment to clear from the customs against two to three days before the implementation process of faceless assessment.

According to a source from the Mumbai port, though the exact number of tons of cargo pending for want of faceless assessment cannot be ascertained immediately, nearly thousands of tons of cargoes are awaiting assessment. The source informed that the officers are not familiar with the new arrangement and are not keen on assessing the shipment and insisting on submission of more documents. This is delaying the clearance besides compelling the trade to pay heavy demurrage and container detention charges for no fault of theirs. Therefore, this time the Government must look into this immediately and also address the issue on a war footing, said the source.

Dr Dinesh Dua, Chairman, Pharmexcil informed that they have already taken up the issue with the concerned authority at the customs.

He cited an incident and said, “In our letter to them, we have communicated that one of our member companies have imported Pulse Oximeter Consignment at Delhi Airport as our regular product to measure check the oxygen level of any COVID-19 infected person. However, the officer raised several queries and we answered all of their queries, but again and again, they are raising different queries and in spite of answering their queries. Then, the concerned officer of the member company went to meet the officer to address their unit price related queries personally and the officer asked him to arrange the answer of the query, only then will he assess the document.

The company had three documents pending with the officer, one document they have cleared with a hundred per cent check, the rest of them is awaiting clearance.

He continued, ” The pharma industry, which has performed exceedingly well, both in generics and medical devices, in terms of import and export is faced with a huge dilemma and losses on account of issues faced due to delays caused by customs officials after the partial rollout of faceless assessment effective from October 2020. During the pre-October period of the consignments, consignments were cleared generally in two to three days’ time, but after the introduction of faceless assessment, the delay has gone up to 15-20 days leading to shortages, particularly for COVID–19 related medical equipment and also exports of pharma to 206 countries in the world.

“This is leading to not only losses to pharma and medical devices industry, but it is also creating acute shortages during these challenging times, both in India and overseas. The prime minister, Narendra Modi along with FM and MOS, Finance are trying their best to ensure ease of doing business, but the ground reality is absolutely contrary, particularly in the Customs. The basic essence of digitalisation leading to faceless assessment seems to have been completely neutralised at least for the time being. Therefore, the industry firmly appeals to the government to waive off the demurrage charges since the industry is not at all responsible for the delay,” expressed Dua.

Recently, the CBIC has issued a notification on October 12, communicating that the authority has decided to make all Saturdays (except second Saturday) as working days for all the faceless assessment groups across the country.

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