GST Refund Process – Scope For Improvement

In the past year, while I was focusing the farmers initiative in India, I have also been spending time helping my spouse’s business with her GST related tax filings, returns etc.

This has helped me learn about the current process and I am glad I could give some of my feedback to the tax officers today – when they reached out to us with the manual steps involved in getting the tax refund from their office.

Happy to share it here so that any one else with awareness on this topic and interest in helping India improve the ease of doing business, could pitch in.



Respected Sir, good morning and thank you for the detailed communication in this regard. After you sent the circular (Circular No.1_2018_Refund.pdf), I have read the circular in detail and it explains the process very clearly.

I continue to be disappointed with the number of manual steps involved in this process and hence would like to contribute to the improvement of it in a few ways.

The intention is purely to help India become one of the best countries to do business in and with the experience of having spent close to a dozen years in the US, as a patriotic Indian, I feel obliged to provide my inputs on the same.

Please find below my recommendations on the same:

  1. The tax payer is already providing necessary information on the GST portal by uploading the information such as invoice details, expense details etc. A simple utility can be built as a part of the features provided to the officers, where with one click of a button they should be able to retrieve all the information already uploaded by the tax payer.
  2. The above information contains the necessary proof and details on the GST portal by the tax payer, after entering their signature (either digital signature or via electronic validation). Hence the necessary proof with signature from the tax payer is already available to the officers from the GST portal. Hence, there should not be even one step extra which causes duplication of work on the part of the tax payer.
  3. If any of the information relevant and necessary for completing the refund process is not taken from the taxpayer via the portal already, the portal should be enhanced to allow the tax payer to enter the same.
  4. Until such a utility is built, if still an additional proof is required to release the refund of the hard earned money paid in excess by the business, the GST office should make use of its employees to visit the GST tax payer’s offices with printed copies of the necessary documents and get the signature of the business owner (or their representative) along with the business seal and provide the refund via Direct Bank Transfer instantly.

I also would like to request that the refund money due to be taken by the Government as my contribution to your esteemed organisation to help improve the processes and automate them well to reduce/remove the pain to the user of the GST portal.

While I hope that these will be useful to the GST office, I fully understand that these recommendations may or may not be considered by your respected organisation, but I am submitting them as it is my duty to the nation.

Thanks in advance for your patience in reading the above recommendations.


It Doesnt Have To Be Crazy At Work – Book Review

I got a chance to read ‘It Doesnt have to be crazy at work’ by Jason Fried and David Hansson of Basecamp.

They launched Basecamp in 2004 and in 15 years time have reached 3 million accounts. Based on their experience, they have come up with some amazing observations, many of which I could relate to.

Many startups come with a great idea, and then VCs pour money into them with the goal of ‘World Domination’. The authors have resisted this temptation and are contended with growing organically – without depending on VC funding.

The authors believe that this level of independence gives them the ability to take some smart decisions, which could have been compromised otherwise.

As the authors correctly say, you might not rule the world, but will be happy with the growth.

Jason and David have come up with many good recommendations to take care of the employees – which should have made Basecamp a pleasure to work at.

I was smiling as I read many parts of the book and could relate to it:

  • No VC funding
  • Not more than 40 hours of work weekly
  • No sick leave – when you are sick, you take off and do not work
  • Most of the team working remotely – hiring the right people no matter where they are in the world
  • Take care of your employees well and they will in turn, take care of the customers
  • Say No to pressure from large clients
  • Do not create deadlines and ask the team the time needed to complete the tasks

Hoping to implement many more of the ideas they had come up with, which I have never tried:

  • Making sure the pay for a given position is among the 10 percentile anywhere in the world
  • 100USD per month as fitness allowance
  • Paid vacations
  • No roadmap – make it as you go based on customer feedback (This is tough – as I already have a 10 year roadmap!)

Was quite happy reading this book and highly recommend this to any one who manages people.

Safety Chamber for Thai Kids in the cave

Over the past two weeks, our entire family has been glued every day to the news of the kids in the cave in Mae Sai area in Northern Thailand.

We started thinking of ways in which the kids could be brought out and one idea that came up was to build a water proof chamber connected to inflatable pipes that could push air into it and also suck out water from it.

If the pipes can be made big enough for the kids to crawl out that would be the best scenario, even otherwise, if we can have them safe in the chamber for a few months, that could be the next best alternative.

Here is the design we can up with based on our understanding of the situation.

Btw, this could be nothing when compared to the amazing escape pod that Elon Musk and his team are thinking of, which could be a kid sized submarine to help the kids come out safely.

Lets hope for the best.

Five Minute Farmer Ecosystem

In the past few months, I have been meeting various members of the farming community in India to understand the root cause of their issues.

This is one classic example of ‘peeling the onion’ story where as you learn more and more about the issues of the farmers, you see layers and layers of problems surrounding it.

Some of the classic issues related to farmers are:

1. Economies of Scale: Farmers in India mainly comprise of marginal farmers and hence they do not have economies of scale working on their side.

2. Local Traders Grip Over The Farmers: Farmers get loans from local traders who give it at 36% interest rate and when they are unable to repay the loan, they end up pledging their farms to the same traders and after a generation or two, become farmers whose lands are permanently under debt. On top of this, in most cases, these traders are the ones to whom they are forced to sell their produce to the traders at the rates fixed by the traders.

3. Government Officers: In many areas, the Government has appointed officers to help the farmers improve their profits by understanding the bottlenecks in the supply chain and removing them. Instead of doing that, many of the officers have learnt how to make the most of the situation and get a good amount of commission in this supply chain.

4. Mandis: The Government is also trying to organise Mandis (farmers market) where farmers can sell their produce for a good rate. Instead of helping, most of these Mandi owners have started dictating the price of the produce and make sure this is retained for generations together.

5. More Emotions Less Data: Farmers continue doing farming using emotional parameters to decide on the crop and have never looked at it as a business. Due to this, their decisions are emotion based and not fact based. There are farmers around the world who use business driven parameters such as shorter days to maturity, high yield per acre, higher price per kilo, long harvest period, popularity etc before deciding on the crop. In India, it is mainly based on what the neighbours decide to plant.

6. Lack of Technology: Due to their lack of technology expertise, the farmers do not have much information about best practices, techniques etc used in the other states and the rest of the world. Due to this, they are not familiar with many of the techniques which have now become basic necessities in farming in the western world.

Dr.M.S.Swaminathan had led a initiative on this topic and come up with a set of excellent points which cover a lot more than the examples listed above.

The most fascinating thing that pulled me towards the farmers topic was the fact that there are farmers in western world who make 300,000USD (1.8Cr INR) per year from one acre of land. A farmer in India makes about 5,000 to 10,000 Rupees (INR) per month, which translates to a maximum of 2000USD (1.2L INR) per year. In simple terms, a farmer in a developed country makes 300 times more profit yearly when compared to his counterpart in India. Such a gap in this number is not seen in any other industry across the world. Hence I made a simple promise to myself that if I can reduce this to say 30 times, that itself means the farmers make 10 times of what they are making today.

As I spend more time understanding the issues, it is very obvious that this industry is ripe for disruption. With focus on 100% transparency in the entire ecosystem and the objective to help the farmer get 10 times more than what they are making today, I have started this journey to build a ecosystem for the farmers where all players can interact with minimum wastage in the middle. In this ecosystem, the farmer will be person in control and will decide the prices (exactly like how a producer like BMW decides on the selling price for their cars). All other players will have the freedom to play within their boundaries, but at the end of the day, the farmer will no longer be at the mercy of any other middleman.

Will keep updating here as the journey progresses. Keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

Dr.Atul Gawande and his remarkable healthcare article

A friend of mine who practices medicine in New York had shared an article about Dr.Atul Gawande chosen as the CEO of the new medical initiative jointly started by Dimon – Buffett – Bezos trio.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon the link to The Cost Conundrum, an amazing article written in 2009 by Dr.Gawande (link available at the end) about how a small town called McAllen, in Texas, had one of the highest healthcare cost per person. Dr.Gawande goes on to explain in detail about his experiences while trying to understand the rationale behind such high costs. It leads him to come across various factors such as corruption, healthcare-as-a-business thought process which leads to seeing the patient as an ATM.

The patterns that emerge are just mind boggling. It is not about doing anything unethical. Some of his observations even shows that based on where you practiced or how you were taught, the prescriptions varied and hence the cost. I have always thought of LTV (Life Time Value of a customer) costs in SaaS models that I work on every day, but this article made me think of a new term, LSV (Lifetime Squeezable Value) of a patient. LSV might be too harsh when you look at it from one angle about the noble profession, but the minute you step into the shoes of a number driven game played by many doctors around the world, LSV might not look so bad.

He also compares it with his experience with a health care provider called Mayo, where in one incident he says how a surgeon just came by to sit and discuss the options available for the patient to make sure the best possible care and solution is given. When money is not the primary driving factor, the noble profession seems to get back its honour that we always attributed physicians with.

The news is that Charlie Munger sent him a check for 20K USD after reading the article, which was sent to a charity by Dr.Gawande. I am sure Charlie must have become a big fan of his and told him: Please implement all your ideas here in the new venture. I wish Dr.Gawande was recognised much earlier by the Govt and pushed him to do the same for the country instead of coming up with ‘same wine in a new bottle’-care every four to eight years.

The events at McAllen in the healthcare sector is so similar to what is happening in the private hospitals in India. The public hospitals in India are in step one, while step two involves bringing world class setup and doctors to public hospitals and then step three is about how to make sure we do not go the McAllen way. Meanwhile, at the moment, the private hospitals are in step three and it makes me ponder what would it take to get India to have Mayo kind of experience. Time to think about the opportunities here to make the profession noble again.

Link to the 2009 article:

Alex in Wonderland – Remarkable Stand-up Comedian

Alex in Wonderland is a stand up tamil comedy show by an individual named Alex.

When I was given the tickets for Alex in Wonderland, I did not know what to expect and hence went in with an open mind.

Alex in Wonderland is around the theme of Tamil movie music and if you are from the 1970s/1980s, you will love it as you can relate to it much better.

My exposure to stand up comedy has only been by watching Saturday Night Live most of the time and also watching a few episodes by Russell Peters and a few others. My view had been that adult jokes and making fun of people, ethnicity and religion were what made up a stand up comedy show.

Alex in Wonderland gave a new meaning to my view on stand up comedies.

His clarity of thought and humility in the approach while delivering the message is what makes him click.

Alex is a classic example of those who have unique skills and stand apart from the crowd of “me too” stand up comedians.

Highly recommend this show to any one who can understand Tamil. If you have a fascination for Tamil movie music, you will love his show. Hope you enjoy it.

High Standards – Definition by Jeff Bezos from Amazon

Got a chance to read the SEC filing made by Amazon, with Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to the shareholders attached in it.

It is a very well thought out letter. The humble representation of hard facts, especially the four points for high standards is remarkable . Helped me learn something new today.

The statement on high standards given in the letter was:

“the four elements of high standards as we see it: they are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope.”

  1. Teachable: Jeff Bezos says that high standards can be taught.
  2. Domain Specific: High standards in one domain does not automatically mean you will also have high standards in other domains. The good news is, they can be learnt.
  3. Recognise: This is very important as it is not possible to go after high standards, if we do not recognise what they are.
  4. Realistic Scope: This is the most important reason why many organisations fail in reaching high standards, as they usually set a unrealistic time frame to achieve high standards.

So if you are planning to introduce high standards in your organisation, it is very important that you recognise what they are for your domain, set realistic scope for accomplishing it and teach people to go after it.

I also liked the fact that he also attached the 1997 letter. One sentence in it sounds funny when read at this point in time : We established long-term relationships with many important strategic partners, including America Online, Yahoo!, Excite, Netscape, GeoCities, AltaVista, @Home, and Prodigy. All those “important strategic partners” are insignificant at this point in time 🙂 .

If you run an organisation or intend to build one that you intend to focus on being remarkable, I highly recommend you read this letter as there are many valuable lessons to be learnt from this one. Thank you Jeff Bezos for this.

The full letter is available at

Self Parking Slippers and Chairs – Remarkable

I came across this interesting article about self parking slippers in the newspaper today. My curiosity level went up when I realized it was from Nissan as a good friend of mine, Tony, is deeply involved in the thick of actions in technology there.

When I pinged him on this, he directed me to a post he had made on this topic a few days back, which led me to wealth of information on this topic, which is remarkable.

Self Parking Slippers

Self Parking Slippers

Nissan had taken this initiative to showcase to people about their ProAssist technology.  When you watch this video about the self parking slippers, you will be fascinated by it.

As I continued to watch this, I got to learn about ProPilot Chair, which shows how the same technology was used in a proof of concept for self parking chairs to make queueing system easy so that people do not have to stand up and sit down in a queue as they move ahead.

Due to their connected videos on this topic, I got a chance to learn about the self parking slippers, chairs, cushions, tables and even mats, a proof of concept done by Nissan to show case the technology behind their self parking cars.

The simplicity with which Nissan has explained the robustness of their ProAssist technology is remarkable, as it helps people relate to their day to day experiences and can imagine how exactly the same technology is available in the Self Parking vehicles coming from Nissan. Hats off to Tony and team at Nissan for this amazing way of explaining to the common man. This is a classic example of how you explain serious technology to common folks. This is an important lesson to learn from, for everyone involved in creating new technology to solve real world needs.

Data Mining Under 19 and Senior Indian Cricket Teams

As I am a big cricket fan, I watched the finals of the Under 19 Boys world championship between Australia and India. Congratulations to the Indian cricket team for winning it four times in the past 20 years or so.

Given my interests in data mining and also cricket, I dug up more facts about the results of the Under 19 tournaments and how many players from those teams managed to play for Indian Senior team.

The numbers are quite interesting.

50% of the team has come from Under 19 teams. Here is an example with the current T20 team:

Played Under 19 World Cup for India:

  1. Virat Kohli
  2. Rohit Sharma
  3. Shikhar Dhawan
  4. Dinesh Karthik
  5. Kuldeep Yadav
  6. Manish Pandey
  7. Lokesh Rahul
  8. Suresh Raina

Did Not Play Under 19 World Cup for India:

  1. M.S.Dhoni
  2. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
  3. Hardik Pandya
  4. Axar Patel
  5. Sharadul Thakur
  6. Jasprit Bumrah
  7. Yuzvendra Chahal

As I have been following the Indian U19 cricket team during the cricket world cup, I also noticed the seven players here picked up for IPL teams:

  1. Prithvi Shaw
  2. Kamalesh Nagakoti
  3. Shivam Mavi
  4. Shubman Gill
  5. Abhishek Sharma
  6. Manjot Kalra
  7. Ankul Roy

Here is my guess on the players from this India U19 team, not listed above, who will make it to the India Senior team within the next ten years:

  1. Ishan Porel
  2. Shiva Singh


Alexa is Amazing

I got my Alexa device as soon as they made it available in India. I played around with it as a user initially, but soon the technology kid in me took over and started developing skills.

A few things I learnt, which I did not know before about Alexa are:

  1. There is a history of all the commands we give Alexa. Wait, this is not the usual history with text, it also stores the exact audio recording of the voice command given to Alexa. This is scary – when you realise that they have proof of every interaction you ever had with Alexa 🙂
  2. I can now listen to my books on Kindle using Alexa. Earlier I used to buy books on Audible for more than 15USD. Now, it is less than 5USD, delivered to my phone, plus read to me by Alexa 😉
  3. There is a whole new world of Visual User Interface / Visual User Experience (VUI/VUX) which has to mature as it has been least explored so far.
  4. They have separated the skills by region. This means, when I build a skill for India, it will not be available for consumption in US or Europe. I am not sure if this is a good move, but it is an interesting move. I guess it will keep content geography centric and provider more accurate results.

A few topics where I am still pondering over the long term business strategy are:

  1. Without the ability to have the same Alexa voice skills in my phone, I am limited to using Alexa in the house (may be, like some of my friends, I should also get a Alexa Dot for every room.)
  2. Without the ability to communicate using a picture or a video, I am limited to voice based interactions only. May be the future versions of Alexa will come with a camera (or better if Alexa phone is launched!!)

I am comparing Alexa with Hey Siri and OK Google (and to certain extent Watson too) to see how they will compete in the long run.

Will publish some skills on Alexa, that I hope will be useful for everyone.

Meanwhile, I am still thinking of making life easy for any one to extend their existing conventional services (such as websites) to be extended to work with these voice enabled systems.

Due to this level of fascination I have with these products, hence the title – Alexa is amazing – because it simply is.