Many of the items excluded from the requirement for the e-way bill are common agricultural products. The rationale behind the exemption is to avoid burden to the agricultural sector which is largely exempt from the provisions of the GST. While there have been changes to help the agricultural sector reduce food spoilage and thereby increase sales to market there is still a problem about how we can ensure that goods move through the supply chain.
It has been estimated a significant amount of the agricultural bounty in India is lost even before it reaches the market. This occurs through losses in transportation, storage and spoilage. There are programs afoot to improve the transportation of food with new types of transport methods. Better storage facilities are being developed and more efficient distribution methods deliver more food to market. However, even with all of this there is a problem if you don’t know if the food is entering in the chain.
E-way bill was set up as a way to curb tax evasion for the movement of goods. Now that the system is here we can use it to show when shipments or consignments of goods reach each point in the supply chain. As a farmer loads goods onto a truck he can simply generate the e way bill for the load for let’s say vegetables which are especially suspect to spoilage. When the cargo is loaded the e-way bill will have the data about when it was loaded and where it is destined. Each transport link requires a fresh e way bill and the e way bill can help a cold-store know which vegetables should move before others.
E-way bill with its structure allows accurate reporting of the commodities, the transporter, distance and date travelled. This gives a window for the farmer, the wholesaler and the distributor how much food is in their supply chain at any time. It avoids having to create separate food centric transport data architecture. This way when the commodities are processed they can enter the normal supply chain as well.
The concern about extending the e way bill to the farmers are the burden to the individual farmers. Most of the farmers would not have this problem because if goods move less than 10 km there is no requirement to have an e-way bill. Furthermore, if goods move on a conveyance which is not motorized then there is no e way bill requirement. While it will not impact many of the smaller farmers; as farming begins the slow process towards consolidation and enlargement there will be some farmers who will provide these benefits.
So for food processors and larger farms – the e-way bill provides a quality check on the food. It can ensure there is a more efficient usage of food by letting everyone in the supply chain know where the food is. The added burden is minimal with the right tools for e way bill because you will already have to generate an invoice for the sale. Other options for food safety and tracing such as RFID tags work well with e-way bill and are already envisioned by the system.