Embrace transparency, certainty & digitization

Brihanmumbai Custom Brokers Association (BCBA) was formed in order to promote interests of custom house agents in matters relating to inland and foreign trade, shipping, transport, banking, warehousing and insurance. The country can be a world leader in Amrit Kaal and embrace digital technology, says Dushyant Narayandas Mulani, President.

Ritika Arora Bhola

Tell us about the changes you have observed in the agents since you stepped in. Elaborate on the association’s recent activities, ongoing projects, and plans?

BCBA was established more than 85 years ago. The core factor that binds the association today with all the stakeholders and its members is its role of capacity building for its members. Today, we have around 2,300 members employing over one lakh employees in this sector. We have been embarking on compliance training and skill development in order to ensure that we provide thought leadership to our members, and the fraternity. We have been providing important structural changes, reforms, and business process re-engineering measures to various ministries, including the Union Ministry of Finance, CBIC, Union Ministry of Commerce, Shipping, Civil Aviation and so on.

Of late, youngsters are coming forward in the logistics sector. Custom clearance has always been at the center of the logistics scenario. We are glad to announce the support that the BCBA has been giving to its members and trade and industry at large. Whether it be  initiatives such as ‘Make in India,’ or ‘Digital India,’ there has been improvement of the logistic performance index and upgrading of the index of ease of doing business (EoDB) with World Bank interaction.

The BCBA has been at the forefront of it along with FFFAI, our parent body, which is present at 30 locations. We have been engaging in ensuring to create an ecosystem of compliance that happens to train and develop skillset of youngsters. We were the only private sector institution to be awarded the World Customs Organization Award by the Union Ministry of Finance, Central Board of Indirect Taxation and Customs. Digitizing the entire operation of custom brokers was one of the CBIC’s key endeavors, which made Mumbai one of the largest custom zones. Next on the agenda is taking forward the theme as laid down by the WCO, nurturing the next generation, promoting a culture of knowledge sharing and professional pride in customs. India being a signatory to it, CBIC is taking forward this endeavor of WCO and BCBA having the largest membership base. Our two training and knowledge-based sessions have been underway to create an entire ecosystem, which is full of professionalism that comes with training, skill development and compliance.

How much support have you been receiving from the government and private stakeholders in this regard?

We have the support of Union Ministry of Finance and the Union Ministry of Commerce. CBIC has been at the forefront of its hand-holding knowledge dissemination, providing soft infrastructure, and after the pandemic, the virtual platforms have helped. The logistics industry has received ‘industry status’. We have support at all levels in order to enhance the performance of logistics sector and I would say that today amongst all the stakeholders. Customs has been one that can be showcased as one of the pioneers in digitalization and creating a paperless environment.

Tell us about the changes you have observed since you entered the industry. How was it before and how has it evolved now?

Over the past three decades, the industry has undergone a huge change, and, CBIC and the Union Ministry of Finance have year after year come out with various structural reforms helping the industry. These include introduction of EDI to ICE GATE in 2003 to RMS in 2005, Self-Assessment in 2011, and e-payment of Customs Duty in 2013. Then you go across to the Single Window System, where all the participating government agencies were included in 2017.

We had ‘e-sanchit’ in 2018, ‘Turant App’ helped the customs become paperless, contactless, and faceless in 2020. Also, the customs have acted as a local player among all the stakeholders in process of clearance and brought about major changes such as direct port delivery and direct port entry, which have helped the importers, exporters, and trade at large points about RMS Facilitation today. No doubt, India is investing in the infra development at ports, airports and for road development among others. But within the given set of infrastructure, the final thrust came because of COVID, which was, I would say, is a blessing in disguise. Everybody who are talking about going digital, went the digital way due to COVID. So, it has been a long journey and India has come a long way.

What are the crucial areas of concern for customs today?

India is aspiring to grow to a US$5 trillion economy; it will require a different mindset of growth, which will have to be instilled in the trade and the department. Achieving this will be dependent on the tenets of transparency and predictability.

The TFA articles of which India is a signatory lays down the principles of transparency and predictability, and yes, the authorities are working on it. The NLP shows the importance that our nation is addressing it.

  • In the custom clearance scenario, we have urged CBIC to lay down time limits for custom clearance—12 hours for shipments coming by air and 24 hours by sea. The trade will have to follow it with timely submission of the Bill of Entries and Shipping bills with customs, timely custom duty payments and the like. This kind of benchmarking will surely help in creating centralized feedback and escalation mechanisms with CBIC that will help the trade and industry to intensify any issues they are facing and right from the top, CBIC has given progressive feedback towards it, and I am sure, they will be implementing it soon.
  • The logistics sector is currently facing several issues with the other stakeholders. They need to embrace this doctrine of transparency and predictability and digital working in total. The stakeholders such as custodian, the airlines, the NVOCCs, and shipping lines need to come onboard in order to ensure that performance benchmarks and digital working are embraced in totality.
  • Lastly, the government agencies such as FSSAI, ADC, animal quarantine, plant quarantine must also go digital. The parallel manual paperwork needs to be stopped immediately, as it has happened in customs.

Do you think the country can deploy advanced technology. Is the industry ready to embrace that technology now?

Yes. I can say India can embrace digital tech like no other in the world. India can be a world leader to showcase this. Today, with the stride the country has made by implementing single window system and digital custom clearances, some of the advanced economies are also not that digitized to that extent. I say let there be a structured pathway laid down by the authorities with timelines for full digitalization, and India can be a world leader soon. This is going to be the country’s decade of logistics.