Today i will talk about the digital signature conundrum in India. We are entering the digital era and everything is online. In order to file any statutory form on a government portal, one needs a digital signature certificate (DSC) . Some sites do not require but their e-governance site is horrible to say the least. Otherwise most of the sites operate on the basis of validation by a DSC of the Director.
Now getting a DSC is the most difficult job in India. One has to fill in a form and submit an application, written in blue ink with the photograph affixed and signature across the photograph. Then the real problem starts. The person has to do a 25 sec video in which he has to hold his income tax permanent account number (PAN) and Aadhar card up for the camera to view it and it should be clearly visible to the camera. Often times, a person has to do the video process at least 3 to 4 times before it gets approved from the system. Apparently the process for obtaining DSC changes frequently, because someone somewhere keeps doing some fraud exploiting some loophole in the system and then they need to revamp the system.
Then comes the issue of registering the DSC on different government portals. A DSC is valid for 2 or 3 years only and one has to renew it every time. And every time it is renewed it is required to be registered on all the government portals where it is going to be used. It has to be registered on Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Goods & Service Tax (GST) and income tax portal. The RBI e-governance site does not require DSC registration but i will come to that later. The MSME, Professional Tax, IEC (DGFT) sites do not require DSC registration to my knowledge. I have not tried on any of the provident fund (PF) or employees state insurance corporation (ESIC) sites, so do not know about the requirements there.
I don’t understand why it is required to be registered separately on each government site. Why can’t it be automatically updated on each government portal no sooner it is issued by the authority, which is also a government authority. Something like a Zomato for DSC. It will save a lot of botheration for the stake holders.
Registration of the DSC is another bug bear, because of the software requirements. There is something called the “emsigner” which the users have to download and do some process in order for the DSC to be visible for the purpose of signing the documents. This “emsigner” is the most difficult part, try as much as you can, it does not get loaded for some reasons unknown. It is like the father of your girl friend, whom you are trying to kiss, but he is not allowing to do so, despite repeated attempts.
Once the DSC is registered, then comes the matter of filing the forms and uploading the documents with it. There are multifarious issues here – MCA has got a java problem (you have to download the latest java) and since MCA forms are all on adobe acrobat, you need the correct version of adobe, because of the next problem, which is the file size problem. Now file size of upto 6 mb is allowed to be uploaded, earlier it was only 2.5 mb. Then you need to do some steps to reduce the file size on adobe. Otherwise once client signs with his DSC and then the professional signs with his DSC and then does pre-scrutiny and then saves the form, sometimes the file size goes beyond 6 mb, and then the form will not upload. So one has to keep reducing the sizes of the attachments as well keeping in mind the requirements that the document should be clear and legible to read for the officer sitting in the government office.
GST is as on the date, the smoothest of all government e-governance sites. They do have the DSC registration process which is a pain, but otherwise it is the most user friendly site (caveat : among all government e-governance sites). Recently during covid pandemic, they have allowed to file forms without DSC, via the OTP route, which is good. Recently i filed a form GSTR-1 even with the OTP (i hope it has gone properly, my dashboard says “submitted” though).
I have just filed one form on the income tax portal which is the form 10A for registration under section 12 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 for obtaining registration of charitable institutions/ trust etc for making their tax exempt status, so not an expert to comment on that site. But during filing the form 10A, the system asked for DSC to be registered again, and then it generated something called a signature utility file which was required to be uploaded while submitting the form. Why all government e-governance sites cannot have an uniform standard applicable across the board, i am not able to understand that.
Then we come to RBI e-governance portals, i.e .the Foreign Liabilities & Assets (FLA) return and the Single Master Form (SMF). RBI e-governance sites are unarguably the worst e-gov sites of all. You require three login ids and passwords for their sites, one for FLA return, second for entity master data and third for SMF, whenever you do a foreign exchange transaction i.e. foreign direct investment or transfer etc. FLA requires an OTP every time you login, so this i don’t understand, why you require an OTP when you have to enter the data in the system. Other sites operate on the basis of user id and password, why can’t RBI operate similarly. Secondly the RBI sites are most user unfriendly, too technical to navigate and understand and there is no proper user manual or FAQs for the technical part of the system. Try filing a SMF, then you will come to respect your mother in law better. This is real harassment by the RBI. Every time you submit the SMF, every time they reject the form on one stupid pretext or another and there is no proper guidance. Even after you have filled in the form details correctly and attached all the documents as per their user manual, they will come up with an objection, which is not required in any written manual but based on their whims and fancies. Recently in one SMF, RBI has asked for a copy of the MOA (memorandum of association) of the company. There was never any requirement for attaching the MOA, but i feel that with this form RBI is treating every foreign investor like a criminal – how can they expect more FDI to come in, if they have such an attitude, beats me. What is more criminal is that even if you have submitted the form within the time limit stipulated by them, you get a penalty notice, just because the final submission has been delayed beyond the time limit, due to their whims and fancy requirements. It is ridiculous, to say the least. There should have been videos explaining how to fill in the form especially the FLA return and SMF. They are too complicated to understand.
Government should move into standardise all the e-governance requirements so that it becomes easy to operate for the stakeholders.