Art and culture
- Decks have been cleared for the construction of a Rs. 1.5-crore project to develop Ghantasala village in Krishna district as one of the prime Buddhist tourist spots in the State.
The new tourist spot
- The new facility will be themed on the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha.
- The major highlight will be a two-storied structure in Buddhist architecture resembling a pedestal with a 100-ft wide and 70-ft high Budha in the Mahaparinirvana posture.
- On top of the two-storey structure will be an imposing statue of the reclining Buddha, this is a chief iconographic and statuary pattern of Buddhism.
- It represents the historical Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the Mahaparinirvana.
The Mahaparinirvana Posture
- In Buddhism, Mahaparinirvana means the ultimate state everlasting, highest peace and happiness entered by an Awakened Being (Buddha).
- It shows Buddha lying on the right flank, his head resting on a cushion or on his right elbow, supporting his head with his hand.
- This pattern seems to have occurred at the same time as other representations of the Buddha in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.
- The two floors will house a Buddhist library, a meditation centre, an auditorium for spiritual classes, an exhibition hall for digital replicas of the Buddhist antiques exhibited in the Paris museum and monasteries.
Development of new projects
- The project is coming up in a 2-and-half acre private land donated by a non-resident Telugu Gorrepati Ramanadha Babu on behalf of a Trust run in the names of his parents.
- Tenders for the project have been concluded, designs approved and administration sanction given. The work may start in a couple of weeks.
- Ghantasala, known as Katakasila in the ancient times, was a renowned Buddhist centre located near the coast.
- Ptolemy, the Greek geographer, had made a specific remark of an emporium of Kontakossyla in the region of Misolia (present Machilipatnam).
- The maha stupa was once sheathed with well decorated sculptured slabs like that of Amaravathi and had an ornate railing.
- Initially, the archaeological implication of Ghantasala was reported by Boswel in 1870-71 and the site was then subjected to excavations by Alexander Rea which brought out the stupa architecture in detail.
Polity and constitution
- The Supreme Court (SC) while granting bail to former Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) chairman Rakesh Kumar Paul in a case of alleged corruption said that Personal liberty cannot be bargained at the altar of what the state may perceive as justice.
The default bail
- A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur, in a majority ruling of 2:1, said Mr. Paul was entitled to ‘default bail’ and the trial judge should release him on such terms as may be reasonable.
- In the majority verdict, the court said that “in matters of personal liberty, we cannot and should not be too technical and must lean in favour of personal liberty”.
- The apex court was hearing the plea filed by Mr. Paul after his bail pleas were rejected by the Gauhati High Court twice.
- In his dissenting verdict, Justice P.C. Pant held that the accusations did not reveal merely an economic offence but it showed a transgression of the constitutional rights of the victims of the crime.
- Over the past 70 years, the display of respective nationalisms at the border has become far more aggressive, dramatic, and hateful. The well-choreographed hurling of the slogans “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Jio jio Pakistan” at each other not only reduces the India-Pakistan relationship to a juvenile shouting match but, more importantly, encourages people to belittle and disrespect each other’s sense of nationhood in praise of one’s own.
The retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border over the years
- The retreat ceremony currently is less of a celebration and more about condescending the other.
- Following Partition, and the creation of the two states in 1947, the Wagah-Attari border, a short drive from Lahore and Amritsar, remained a trade and transit point between the two countries.
- During the heydays of India-Pakistan relations in the mid-2000s, it was decided to allow trucks to go to designated points on either side of the border for unloading cargo.
- Today, there is more formalized trade between the two countries than there is transit thanks to severe visa restrictions.
- The Attari border was managed by the Indian Army in the first few years after Independence and later managed by the Punjab Armed Police before the BSF eventually took over after its creation in 1965.
- When the retreat ceremony began in 1959, the joint Check Post was marked by a few painted drums, two flag masts and a rubble of stones astride the Grand Truck Road that stretches from Calcutta to Peshawar.
- During the early decades, the flag-lowering ritual was a low-key affair that had an almost negligible audience and spartan seating arrangements, a far cry from the grand infrastructure and pavilions that can accommodate as many as 10,000 people today.
Scenario post Kargil war
- India’s 1999 victory over Pakistan in Kargil made all the difference, as well as the opening up of the Indian media space in the preceding years.
- Since Kargil, the Attari-Wagah border has become a tourist destination and consequently led to the expansion of infrastructure on both sides.
- Unlike the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, when the ceremony was temporarily halted during the conflicts, it continued during the duration of Kargil.
- Given that Kargil was India’s ‘first televised war’, it also brought about several changes in the way we relate to war, peace and of course the ‘enemy’, Pakistan.
- Post-Kargil, the ceremony started reflecting carefully choreographed elements of hostility and resentment towards the enemy ‘other’ across the white line at Attari.
- A quick glance at post-Kargil films such as Gadar:Ek Prem Katha (2001), The Hero: Love Story of a Spy (2003), and LOC Kargil (2003) demonstrate how Kargil has influenced our notions of nationalism and the sources and definitions of national security threats.
- Over the years, the ceremony has become hostile and dramatized with the guards displaying intimidating gestures, stomping their feet and exchanging angry glares across the large iron gates, much to the delight of the cheering crowds.
- In 2010, BSF and Pakistan Rangers agreed to do away with some of the overt aggression, yet the angry gestures of stomping, thumping and glaring nonetheless remain an integral part of this theatrical ceremony.
- There are ritualistic exchanges of sweets and occasional hugs between the BSF and Pakistani Rangers on special days such as August 14-15 and Diwali/Eid. During times of tensions, this practice is often suspended.
- Behind the stomping and angry glares then, there is a certain cordiality that exists on the Attari-Wagah border, and that in a sense is what makes it even more ironical, and a theatre of the absurd.
Display of nationalism turning into Bollywood music
- The retreat ceremony today is not just a daily exercise in the display of nationalism and military vigour.
- Over the years, it has become a heady cocktail of Bollywood music, businesses flashing their tri-coloured advertisements, souvenir shops selling patriotic memorabilia, and LCD screens displaying the sponsors of the event. Nationalism is good business too.
- Popular film actors are often seen at the venue promoting their films and connecting with the crowds, besides adding to the nationalistic atmosphere.
- The retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border, a well-rehearsed exchange of insults, is a constant, daily, reminder of our hostility towards each other as against the idea of each other’s nationhood, and the inhabitants of the two nations.
- Seventy years may not be a long time in the lives of two post-colonial nations, but the 70th anniversary of freedom is a good time to start accepting each other’s existence as sovereign independent entities.
- India needs to accept Pakistan’s tryst with its destiny and what it does with it, and vice-versa.
- The Centre will be raising Indian industry’s concerns over the U.S. visa ‘curbs’ and the ‘delay’ in inking a bilateral social security pact (or totalization agreement) during the India-U.S. Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting likely in October.
Expectations from the TPF meeting
- In the TPF meeting, the U.S. is expected to table its worries over India’s ‘restrictions’ on e-commerce as well as the ‘challenges’ faced by American innovative industries due to India’s ‘weak’ Intellectual Property Rights administration.
- New Delhi will be putting forth the ‘non-tariff barriers’ by the U.S. that are hurting Indian agriculture, pharmaceuticals and other industrial exports.
- Washington is expected to raise its concerns over India’s ‘excessively high tariffs’ on imports of many manufactured products as well as the $24.3 billion goods trade deficit that the U.S. had with India in 2016.
Official delegation to New Delhi
- Ahead of the TPF meeting, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for South and Central Asia, Mark Linscott, will lead a U.S. official delegation to New Delhi in September for discussions on the TPF agenda.
- He’ll also be framing the contours of the projected ‘comprehensive review’ of bilateral trade relations.
- Prior to that, Mr. Linscott, Tanya Menchi, Deputy Assistant USTR for South and Central Asia, and Brendan Lynch, Director for India at the USTR Office, will participate in a round-table discussion on August 2.
- The discussion is being organized by the advocacy body U.S.-India Business Council to gather inputs for the TPF meeting and the ample review of bilateral trade ties.
- Such discussions means that the ‘commercial’ track will be taken out of the India-US ‘Strategic and Commercial Dialogue’ (S&CD), and from now on take place independently.
- The Defence Ministry has deputized administrative and financial powers right up to the level of Chief Engineer and task force commander to improve the efficacy of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and speed up works.
Bringing in the transformational change
- The aim is to bring in transformational changes in the BRO, various powers of delegation have been revised for this.
- Improving the powers at all levels in the BRO, the Ministry of Defence has now approved that for both departmental and contractual mode of execution, a Chief Engineer of BRO can accord administrative approval up to Rs. 50 crore, Additional Director-General (ADG) up to Rs. 75 crore and Director-General (DG) up to Rs. 100 crore.
- The BRO, involved in constructing roads to provide connectivity to difficult and inaccessible regions, was brought under the control of the Defence Ministry in 2015.
- Completion of strategic border roads has been delayed as was emphasized on various occasions by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
- The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is one of the biggest tax reforms in India. Though only a few weeks old, the latest tax is now firmly embedded in the millions of transactions happening all over the country every day, since the historic first of July, 2017, a watershed in Indian taxation history.
The successful implementation of GST
- The key to the successful implementation of the GST was through a consultative forum which worked towards consensus among States with diverse interests in a federal structure.
- The goal of GST, which is ‘one nation, one tax, one market,’ a shot-in-the-arm for the country’s ease-of-doing-business initiatives, is praiseworthy.
- In the long term, GST is probable to achieve improvements in the system efficiency, simplification and rationalization of taxes, and the shift of business activity from the unorganized to the organized segment.
- The resultant widening of tax base, along with traceability of transactions, is bound to add to the exchequer despite reduction in tax burden on the consumption of common goods.
The GST Network
- GSTN or the GST Network, has established for the first time a uniform interface for the taxpayer and a common and shared IT (information technology) infrastructure between the Centre and the States.
- A complex exercise involving the integration of the entire indirect tax ecosystem, the tax regime has brought all the tax administrations (Centre, State and Union Territories) to the same level of IT maturity with uniform formats and interfaces for taxpayers and external stakeholders.
- Commendable and unprecedented handholding has been seen, with the taxman engaging in conversation with enterprises, chambers of commerce and industry bodies such as the CII, right through the transition, and more continually through social media responses.
- Initial data streaming indicated widespread adoption of GST by trade and industry.
- New registrations approved in GST crossed a million before the end of the initial month, and about two lakh applications were in process.
- GST has impacted the transport and logistics sector: movement of trucks has increased; time required to cover distances has come down drastically, and pollution levels have come down with increased truck speeds.
To make GST more profitable
- To make GST more lucrative, the concerns of business enterprises and industry sectors would need to be addressed.
- The healthcare industry has sought that services be zero-rated rather than exempt so that providers can avail of input tax credit.
- Hybrid vehicle manufacturers ask for 28% without cess.
- power distribution projects under various government programmes, earlier quoted inclusive of taxes as applicable then, are now subject to higher costs, and so these should be brought aligned to previous rates.
- Urgent intervention of the GST Council is requested towards huge losses to be suffered by units located in the exemption areas on account of non-availability of credit of excise duty which is inbuilt in the manufacturing cost of the opening stock of goods in the GST regime.
- The Railway Ministry sent three top officials on leave, suspended four local level officials and transferred another official after prima facie finding lapses in the maintenance work that led to the derailment of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday and claimed at least 24 lives.
Decisions taken by Railway minister
- Secretary-level officer and Railway Board Member (Engineering) A.K. Mittal, General Manager (Northern Railways) R.N. Kulshrestha and Divisional Railway Manager (Delhi) R.N. Singh were sent on leave.
- The divisional engineer and senior divisional engineer of the railway section were suspended while the central track engineer of the Northern Railway was transferred.
- The action came in after Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Sunday that he “will not allow laxity in operations by the Board.”
- He ordered the Railway Board Chairman to fix responsibility within a day of the accident.
- The welding work was under way near the Khatauli railway station in Uttar Pradesh, leaving a portion of the track without rails when the Utkal Express ran over it and derailed, as per the prima facie investigation.
- There were lapses at multiple levels in the track maintenance work, which was being carried out without taking due permission, before the accident on Saturday evening.
- The track maintenance work was routine and could have been carried out even a day later..
Environment and Ecology
- Goa tops the chat in banning plaster of Paris idols.
- ]Unlike in olden times when idols were made of clay, today’s Ganeshas are usually gypsum plaster, calcinated hemihydrated calcium sulphate, more commonly known as plaster of Paris (PoP).
- Aside from the base material, the bright paints and dyes most artisans use contain toxic chemicals like mercury, zinc oxide, chromium, lead, and cadmium.
- They poison water bodies and aquatic life, and they can cause cancer, respiratory ailments, skin infections when they make their way back to humans via the seafood we eat or the water we drink.
- Motivated by these concerns, organisations and individuals have been working to promote clay idols and natural dyes, as editions of this newspaper in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu have reported and the government of Goa is ahead of them.
How is it successful?
- It is implemented via a multi-agency approach — the GSPCB, the GHRSSIDC, the Excise and Commercial Tax department, the Transport department, and the police are involved.
- The enforcement end includes measures like flying squads patrolling the borders to stop PoP idols from coming in ahead of the festival.
- The Commissioner of Excise is empowered to check vehicles or attach them with the help of police.
- GHRSSIDC and GSPCB officials in tandem inspect registered chitrashallas and withdraw subsidies and licences consent if they flout the ban.
- GSPCB’s annual report for 2014–15, released recently, says that results of analysis of samples from rivers and water bodies across the state before and after the festival revealed no increase in pollution.
- The report also said that GSPCB, at the directions of the National Green Tribunal, conducted a survey of chitrashallas to ascertain that no PoP idols are manufactured prior to the festival season.
Science and Tech
- The software, ‘driving’ the cart, had been developed by Infosys together with IIT-Delhi. The vehicle can be used on a pre-determined route.
Information about the vehicle
- This is an example of building the autonomous systems in the cart to teach our employees to build autonomous driving technology.
- Technology leaders are drumming up the thought that the emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).
- Automation are expected to be the new drivers of employment, especially for India’s $150 billion information technology (IT) industry that now employs about four million people.
- Over the past two years, Bengaluru-based Infosys, which crossed a revenue of $10.2 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal, has revamped the way it trains staff.
- Last quarter, the company completed training 3,000 people in AI technologies.
- He said with the advances in automation technology, more ‘commoditized’ jobs were going away and one had to move towards next-generation jobs and new areas of opportunities.
- In April, the firm also released next generation AI platform, Nia which, it said, tackles business problems such as forecasting revenues and understanding customer behaviour.
- The other applications include deeply understanding the content of contracts and legal documents, understanding compliance and fraud.