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Migration migraines… Welcome to India’s GST

India has a reputation as being a place where some things take “foreeeever” to accomplish. Whereas others happens so fast, no one is prepared! Such as the sudden overnight demonetization of Rs 500 & 1,000 notes.

Or the “GST migration” taking place all over the country.

In the last two weeks I’ve been inundated by emails, pro-active phone calls begging and pleading me to migrate my Service Tax number before the “deadline” of 31st March 2017.

But guess what?

The initial “deadline” was completely impossible to achieve. To migrate one assessee took several hours of painstaking mind numbing effort online, repeatedly trying and testing to see if this photo would upload or that one… In short, the government servers and systems are so slow and archaic or so poorly designed it was simply not possible!

Welcome to digital India!!

And the real kicker to all of this?

As of close of business on Wednesday, 29th March 2017, the status of India’s “brave new tax reforms” was stuck at the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) which had raised objections regarding the GST bills which then went to the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament).

Meaning an entire country’s machinery was being activated even before it was passed by Parliament or became law!!

And the latest greatest twist to this story? An invitation to a “GST Mela”!!

Now a mela in India is a fair – something fun! A great big gathering, often community celebrations but… for taxes?? Seriously taxes??

Naturally the invite:

  • Doesn’t say where this mythical event will take
  • Only dates not timings (being government it is assumed everyone knows only between 10:00am to 2:00pm and maybe possibly again between 3:00pm – 5:00pm)
  • Sent from a hastily created Gmail ID
  • Released the email IDs and names of 382 other fellow Assessees!!!

I’m not kidding. Seriously. This is a bonafide tax office initiative.

So I wrote back asking where, when and what the heck is up with releasing my email ID to scads of other folks stuck in this hapless situation of ‘migration’?

Amazingly within less than a minute, I received an email reply providing the details, assurances this is a legitimate request to help assessees.

Even more remarkably, it was followed up seconds later with a phone call. From a young man speaking in English helping clarify and sincerely requesting I complete my migration – either in person or by sending my assistant (naturally he assumed I have one!).

And when I asked what is needed:

  • Only your mobile number and email ID…
  • Um… that doesn’t sound right. Anything else?
    • Maybe your Adhaar and PAN number…?
  • But I don’t know if qualify for an Adhaar (India’s controversial universal ID card)
    • Oh ok. No problem…
  • What about the photo and address proof as required on the website?
    • Nope not needed!

Umm…. really? Somehow I don’t think this is correct.

On disclosing everyone’s email IDs, he apologized that they hadn’t thought about tax payer confidentiality and shared they are under “too much pressure!” to get 100% compliance.

Obviously he couldn’t actually say if my migration was outstanding or not – my CA’s team was trying to do the online migration for me.

That would be too simple.

Moral of the story?

Living in India Tip #3

Never underestimate the speed things can happen… or change… or that if you just dig a bit further they may be alternate arrangements for the back-up arrangements. It may not initially make sense but you will get there in the end!

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Delhi dawn… another Sunday snap

For many years I called Delhi home.

Winters would bring chilly temperatures hovering just above zero. Which sounds wimpy when compared with a Winnipeg winter of -40’c, however when you have no indoor heating, it is mighty cold!

And fog, so thick sometimes you could barely see a few feet in front of you. Causing havoc with air transportation with delays endemic those winter months…

This is what I found looking out from my hotel window, an early morning in February…

20170203_delhi-dawn

Dawn in Delhi from the window of the Taj Mahal hotel on Man Singh Marg. That mythical quality was clearly not captured so well in the photo, and alas is a combination of natural (fog) and unnatural (pollution) factors.

Such a contrast to our scorching sunshine days in Mumbai! I returned from Delhi early Feb to be greeting by an unseasonably early temperature rise.

Related Sunday snaps:

Garbage bricks? In Bandra

Years ago a Turkish diplomat getting ready to leave India shared that one thing he would not miss about Mumbai was the constant cacophony of the crows.

I was puzzled as this was not an issue for me… at the time I lived in Kalina. While there were birds a-plenty, crows weren’t specifically a problem.

Til we moved to Bandra.

That’s where the fun began.

And I remembered the crow comment… Oh how I remembered his genuine frustration at the constant, relentless cawing… What trouble they were getting into homes, garbage… the nuisance and nonsense of these feathered devils.

It was a frustration I began to share.. particularly as we have several crows who have adopted our building.

bandra-crow

One does get used to all sorts of noises and sounds, so after time, the cawing simply blended into the noises that make everyday life here.

However there is another aspect to the equation.

The humble garbage bin.

Why you may ask is this at all relevant?

Because in addition to the sharp cawing, this is a further element of angst with these scavengers.

They LOVE garbage. They LOVE even more making a mess of things. All your unmentionables strewn about for all and sundry to see… Our building crows boldly open bins to unearth your hidden edible treasures.

Enter the brick to the rescue.

In my climb up the stairs I discovered a simple yet smart way adopted by several neighbours to combat the crow garbage scourge!

bandra-garbage-brick

Just like the odd cones on our building pipes that keep the rats and mice away, a simple brick on top of the garbage bin makes it sufficiently challenging to the crows.

Voila! Garbage crow deterrent!

Now I gotta go get me a brick!!

Other Sunday Snaps:

A ‘Tolly’ good evening in Kolkata

As I sat in the Tollygunge Club in Kolkata, hearing Bengali, munching on fried fish with kashundi (mustard sauce), sipping my ‘rum pani‘ (Old Monk, of course), I felt so much at home.

There I was with an old friend and his partner, my partner and his old friends – who just so happened to know each other.

It is a small world like that.

20170122_kolkata-tollyganj

My partner was in Kolkata to perform in a play.

I was in Kolkata to meet with my client and conduct focus group discussions with their team.

It wasn’t an accident we were in Kolkata at the same time. One commitment sparked another and thankfully nothing got in the way.

So that Sunday evening, we came out after the play to meet our friends, enjoying the slight nip in the air…

I could not have been happier.

For me, Bengali is one of those languages that I do not speak but I was immersed in enough consider it a familiar friend. It is the sound of one of my many past homes… the home where I lived in the 90s as a student in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi.

And Bengali food is something that once upon a time was what would constitute a regular home cooked meal.

The setting? A piece of history.

While the Tollygunge club was officially founded in 1895, the Club House was built even earlier and is now over 220 years old. What was once home to Tipu Sultan’s son and a member of the East India Company now is where our friends come out to enjoy their day or night.

Rather than be a stuffy relic, ‘Tolly’ is where families and friends go to entertain and be entertained, relax and re-invigorate…

It is a nice reminder that things do change… yet also retain elements of days gone by.

It was also a time to reflect…

Looking at a friend I’ve known for more than 20 years, it was clear that I’m not the same person I was back in early 1995 when we first met.

However I would not be the person I am today without all the ups and downs, rights and lefts that occurred in between.

So though Bengal is no longer a core element of my everyday today in a way that it was living in a Bengali home in a Bengali colony, hearing Bengali, eating Bong khanna, listening to Bengali music… these experiences are all intrinsically part of me, not just my past but indelibly part of who I will always be.

And for that I am thankful. It was indeed a ‘Tolly’ good evening!

20170122_kolkata-carissa

Me with my friend’s partner

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Just part of living here… Indian tax rectification requests

It has been awhile since I shared an update on my latest greatest efforts to get something fixed with the Indian Income Tax Department

Over a year ago, I shared my hope that the tax tide was turning… at the time I was doing a manic happy dance as there seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement that the ‘outstanding amount’ was hokum, bunk, BS and more!

And another notice... more money!

And another notice… more money! NOT!!!

Of course, I knew that just because I was finally paid a refund vs having it adjusted against the fictitious ‘outstanding amount’, that didn’t mean the issue was actually resolved. No siree! That isn’t how we roll in this part of the world.

So I duly filed yet another rectification request… feeling rather like my CA and I are becoming experts at this… was it number 4 or was it 5????

And nothing… a full year of nothing… no “ITR Rectification” notice, meaning a formal response to my request.. just nothing…

At one point I even attempted to do a follow-up rectification request online – not allowed as there was already an open rectification request for the year in question.

The challenge with being in limbo is you can’t assume it is actually fixed… because it is not. Yet without a formal response, one simply has to wait… wait… wait for it… wait…

Then came the phone call.

That is correct… a phone call… asking me to again pay for tax that was already paid in 2008/09.

One year and three months after the last rectification request was filed.

For which no formal response has been received…

I want you to pay your taxes

I think he is used to people getting upset with a call from the IT Department not a gushing:

“OH! I’m so happy you called! Thank you!

Now… 

Help me out here, what can we do to get this internal system glitch fixed?

At least to get it updated for the year in question?”

You could tell he knew it was actually paid but no one is able to acknowledge that one system in the IT Department doesn’t “talk” to the other system and hence tax payers – all 1% of us – get lost in the middle.

The reply was to re-send what had already been submitted online to an official email ID. Hmm…. that is simple… suspiciously simple… Would it really work???

Did my enthusiasm to get something fixed from 2008/09 make me vulnerable to some brilliant new scam or trick?

Or has the tide actually officially really finally turned and it will indeed be smooth sailing?

Moral of the story?

Living in India Tip #1

Those of you foreigners living in India – best advice anyone can give you to surviving longer term in this country is get a good honest CA.

One you can continue to rely on even after you leave… (if you leave)….

As something you thought was done and dusted years ago can come back to haunt you!

Like a tax issue from 2008/09 still being unresolved in 2017! 

Related posts:

Dethroning “King Cash” – daily life post demonetization

While it is true I spent much of November and December in Indonesia, I’m home in India now and discovering the new day-to-day reality of life post demonetization.

For those not familiar, on November 8, 2016 the Prime Minister of India with a swipe of his pen made the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes no longer legal tender – effectively taking 86% of the currency out of circulation.

The rules of how to exchange or deposit any cash kept changing and, more challenging, the new Rs 2,000 then also Rs 500 notes were a different size so ATMs didn’t immediately work. Then when re-calibrated, apps popped up informing where you could get cash – finding an ATM (or bank branch) with cash became a more elusive race than catching Pokemon Go!

(more…)

Everyday Asia 2016 – Happy New Year!

It is a time of celebration. It was a year of change. From some nerve wracking months when I didn’t know whether I could remain in India to manic work back in one of my favourite places – Jakarta – 2016 had lows and highs and many moments in between.

Blogging honestly hasn’t been a priority.  From September, I was more in Indonesia than India. Even when home, my focus was on the project. However I didn’t just work in Jakarta. I did manage an escape to Bogor to breath in oxygenated air at the Botanical gardens and even attend a Christmas fair in Kemang.

Did you want this box?

Did you want this box?

(more…)

Feeling blessed…

This time of year is special. I feel particularly blessed… and while the last five years have had some ups and downs, the good far outweighs the challenges.

Five years ago Christmas Eve is when I met my partner.

Bangkok romance

Bangkok romance, 2011

(more…)

Saying farewell too soon…

Saying farewell is never easy. And when it is too soon, even more so.

20161015_joy

We said farewell to a friend. We celebrated his life. We remembered first moments, great moments, mad moments and more. We were reminded how life takes us on many journeys with twists and turns.

Farewell my friend, may your journey continue…

20161015_sunset

 

Spinach head + pissing milk

A sometimes amusing thing about having a smattering of more than one language is how what you hear pops something completely different into your head courtesy of another language!

It can result in some rather odd brain combinations…

The 1st time I was asked if I wanted ‘susu’ in my coffee in Indonesia… had a quite gross image of a kid pissing into my sacred morning ritual with a heavily caffeinated brew!

Cus ‘susu‘ in my Hindi-colonised brain now means… well… taking an erm…. leak.

Whereas in Bahasa it means milk!

Last trip to Jakarta during my stay-cation massage, I thought the girl asked if I wanted a palak massage too.

Now palak to me means spinach…. So I instantly had bizarre cartoon images of spinach dancing in my head!

Turns out she was actually saying kepala i.e. head but obvious my ear was wired to food!

I wonder if others have this strange experience of hearing (or mis-hearing) one thing which bears zero relationship to what is ACTUALLY being said?

BTW… if you haven’t yet checked out Simone (Lady of the Cakes) new blog on Multilingual by Choice yet, do….

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