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Government

The Customs’ ICEGATE


AK Prasad

The Customs department decided to implement an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system to automate its processes and introduce an e-payment service to make life easier for end-users and officials. The EDI system helps transfer data between different companies using networks such as the Value Area Network (VAN) or the Internet.

The VAN is basically a data communications service provider that stores and forwards electronic data (usually EDI messages) within its network as well as to subscribers on other VANs. In the case of Indian Customs, the VANs use the X.400 protocol. This enables a trading partner situated at any location to dial into the local node of the VAN of which he is a subscriber.

Cutting down on time

The EDI deployment’s primary objective was to level the existing paper mountains and automate processes. This was essential to facilitate the work of Customs officials and businesses involved with imports and exports. Single point access to Customs and Central Excise officials was required for this.

The next requirement was to ensure secure transaction gateways over the Internet for enterprises and businessmen linked to various banks. With these objectives, a portal was launched for all transactions and customs clearance documentation. The EDI migration was executed centrally under the supervision of the Directorate General of Systems and Data Management, Central Board of Excise and Customs, New Delhi.

AK Prasad, Commissioner of Customs, Mumbai explains, “We have 200 Customs stations. Out of these, 35 stations handle over 80 percent of the traffic. We wanted to manage and automate the process to reduce paper work and increase efficiency. Now the electronic transactions and processes can be conducted through icegate.gov.in.”

The ICEGATE

ICEGATE is an abbreviation for the Indian Customs and Central Excise Electronic Commerce / Electronic Data Interchange (EC / EDI) gateway. The portal provides online documentation (e-filing) services to trading partners such as trade carriers, cargo carriers, and other enterprise clients.

The typical EDI process has a Web interface through the ICEGATE portal where a company completes its documentation, makes a payment and collects goods.

When a trading partner completes the process and payment, the information is sent to the bank (where the partner has an account). The bank verifies and completes the transaction. This is then sent to Customs officials for goods clearance based on remarks and inputs.

Conversion and E-filing

Prasad says that huge volumes of data had to be checked and uploaded to the EDI servers. “This had to be done manually since there was no other option ,” he adds. Also it had to be ensured that the portal was secure and that transactions executed through it were protected.

With respect to digital signatures, the Customs has issued unique registration numbers to clearing agents who are also known as Custom House Agents. This was initiated as it was observed that agents used to falsify their identity. The process became operational this September.

The Web interface ensures electronic filing of the bill of entry (import goods declaration) and shipping bills (export goods declaration) as well as other documentation. Apart from the Customs offices, data and information is also shared between various government departments.

Regulatory agencies are also on the information-sharing list to curb malpractices. These include the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Reserve Bank of India, Apparel Export Promotion Council, Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council, and Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics.

Benefits all the way

The portal facilitates the e-filing of import or export declarations. This enables the Customs to respond to the importers or exporters by way of assessed bills of entry and shipping bills.

The portal has facilitated the exchange of EDI messages within the Customs community of partners for cargo clearance. Zonal data centres are spread across the country and are interconnected through leased lines from MTNL and BSNL.

Prasad elaborates. “This has enabled reduction of traffic at the port and container terminals. With the deployment of EDI almost 99.6 percent of the processes are now completed electronically.”

The portal also provides for the non-repudiation of the declarations filed through digital signatures allocated by Customs acting as a Certification Authority under the IT Act, 2000.

 
     
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