The Allahabad High Court ruled that the physical printout of an e-way bill is not necessary for a transporter to present if the electronic version of the document has been stored on a mobile phone or other device. In this case, the vehicle was detained and a seizure order was passed even though the e-way bill had been downloaded the day before the seizure order was passed. Here the e-way bill was issued on 26 March 2018 and the seizure order was issued on 27 March 2018. Furthermore, there was a valid GST invoice with the cargo – based on these grounds the court quashed the seizure order.
While detention and seizure of goods is permitted under Sections 129 and 130 of the UPGST Act – the recent Circular 41/2018 from the CBEC establishes procedures and provides guidance to officers. When the inspection occurs if the documents are verified and no discrepancies are found on the face and an de-way bill number is made available or in a print out or SMS then the detention is over and the goods are free to move.
In this case, the e-way bill number and the e-way bill in a form was available and presented so the goods should have been allowed to continue without any further obstruction.
GST Rule 138B(1) which states the officer is allowed to intercept a conveyance to verify the e-way bill in physical or electronic form. There is no requirement to have both a physical and electronic copy of an e-way bill with a transporter. The rules do require the e-way bill to be issued before the movement begins – the case could have had a different outcome if the e-way bill had been issued after the seizure order had been made.
The decision is one of the first after the introduction of the e-way bill and it reinforces the idea that the information being submitted through the correct portal and available rather than being physically present is important. This is an important step toward the reduction in dependency on paper and other physical media. These physical media can be easily forged or lost. Rather than relying on indicia like a stamp or a seal – the court has sided with a novel approach which combines process, accuracy and availability.