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GST rate reductions distorted tax structure, says Nirmala Sitharaman at HTLS

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The Goods and Services Tax rate structure has become distorted due to a string of rate reductions after the new indirect tax was introduced two years ago, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday. Once the GST rate was decided and the biggest indirect tax reform launched in 2017, Sitharaman said the GST council went about reducing the tax rate of certain set of commodities.

“And I am not blaming anyone here. Equally all of us went about in every meeting of the GST council to reduce the taxation rate of certain set of commodities,” she said. This, she said, kept on happening.

“At the end of the day, the intentions were good. (but the tax rates) kept reducing, kept reducing. Now reduction per se is not bad,” she added.

“I am not saying that people did it thoughtlessly, but in the enthusiasm to reduce taxes, that framework which was originally agreed at stage one of GST was distorted,” Sitharaman said, explaining that lowering the tax rate impacted the input tax credit and transferred more taxes to the buyer.

Sitharaman’s assessment of the tax structure comes right ahead of the meeting of the Goods and Services Tax Council, the powerful body of state finance ministers led that she heads, later this month that is expected to discuss the first steps towards reviewing the tax rates.

Sitharaman declined to comment on the decisions that the council would take on the tax rates but underscored that a good streamlined GST regime for all assesses would be put in place.

Eventually, she said, the council will have to rationalise the tax structure and asked if it was really necessary to have a large number of slabs. “The original intent was to have three rates, merit, sin and the standard,” she said, underlining that there were “too many complications” in the tax rates.

Sitharaman listed complications in the tax returns that assesses have to file as the second area of focus, asserting that she had told got officials to simplify the forms that she acknowledged, “ended up asking for so much more information”

The minister counted the simplification of GST tax returns that were also distorted as another area that her team is working to fix.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches, destroys rocket in astronaut escape test

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SpaceX completed the last big test of its crew capsule before launching astronauts in the next few months, mimicking an emergency escape shortly after liftoff Sunday.

No one was aboard for the wild ride in the skies above Cape Canaveral, just two mannequins.

The nine-minute flight ended with the Dragon crew capsule parachuting safely into the Atlantic, after separating and speeding away from the exploding rocket.

“I’m super fired up,” Elon Musk, the company’s founder and chief executive, told reporters. “It’s just going to be wonderful to get astronauts back into orbit from American soil after almost a decade of not being able to do so. That’s just super exciting.”

NASA astronauts have not launched from the U.S. since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the next Crew Dragon could launch with a pair of NASA astronauts in the second quarter of this year — as early as April.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off as normal, but just over a minute into its supersonic flight, the Dragon crew capsule catapulted off the top 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Atlantic. Powerful thrusters on the capsule propelled it up and out of harm’s way, as the rocket engines deliberately shut down and the booster tumbled out of control and exploded in a giant fireball.

The capsule reached an altitude of about 27 miles (44 kilometers) before parachuting into the ocean just offshore to bring the test flight to a close. Everything appeared to go well despite the choppy seas and overcast skies. Within minutes, a recovery ship was alongside the capsule.

Recycled from three previous launches, the SpaceX rocket was destroyed as it burst apart in flight and slammed in pieces into the sea. SpaceX normally tries to recover its boosters to drive down launch costs, landing them upright on a floating platform or back at the launch site.

NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, said the launch abort test was “our last open milestone” before allowing SpaceX to launch Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station. Their launch date will depend, in part, on whether NASA decides to keep them for months at the orbiting lab, versus just a week or two. A longer mission will require more training before flight.

The astronauts monitored Sunday’s flight from the firing room. Hurley said it was “pretty neat to see” the capsule aboard the recovery ship within two hours. By all early accounts, the test was successful.

“We’ll see what the data show and go from there,” Hurley said. “But it certainly is a confidence builder from the standpoint if you ever got into that situation, that Dragon can get us away from the booster quickly.”

The astronauts also will have access to speed before liftoff. During a launch dress rehearsal Friday, Hurley and Behnken drove a white Tesla Model X from Kennedy Space Center’s crew quarters to the launch pad, their sleek white and black spacesuits matching the electric sports car with wing-like doors. Musk, who also runs Tesla, used the cars to get around the space center Sunday.

Delayed a day by bad weather, Sunday’s launch from Kennedy brought together hundreds of SpaceX, NASA and Air Force employees on land, at sea and in the air. Tourists and locals alike packed the adjoining visitor complex and nearby beaches to see the dramatic fiery spectacle of an out-of-control rocket. Musk brought along his own family, including his brother.

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing a decade ago to transport astronauts to and from the space station for billions of dollars. Both companies struggled with technical problems, adding years of delay and forcing NASA to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars extra for Russian rocket rides.

After multiple cargo deliveries for NASA, SpaceX successfully flew an enhanced crew capsule to the space station last March without anyone on board, but it exploded a month later during ground testing. The emergency escape thrusters — the kind used in Sunday’s test — had to be retooled. In all, SpaceX has tested these powerful Super Draco thrusters some 700 times.

Last month, meanwhile, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule ended up in the wrong orbit on its first test flight and had to skip the space station. The previous month, only two of the Starliner’s three parachutes deployed during a launch abort test.

Lueders said it’s too soon to know whether Boeing will need to send another Starliner to the space station without a crew or go straight to launching astronauts later this year. An investigation team is still looking into why the Starliner’s automated timer was off by 11 hours during the December test flight.

The importance of launch escape was demonstrated in 2017 when two astronauts, an American and a Russian, were pulled to safety during a failed launch from Kazakhstan. They experienced up to seven times the force of gravity during the abort, but walked away from the accident.

The SpaceX in-flight abort system, Musk pointed out, should be gentler for the crew and is good from the launch pad all the way to orbit.

Musk said the Dragon’s escape system should work — in principle — even if the capsule is still attached when the rocket erupts in a fireball. He said that could look like “something out of ‘Star Wars’” with the capsule flying right out of a fireball.

“Obviously we want to avoid doing that,” he quickly added, taking note of all the NASA personnel around him.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Chandrayaan 2, India-Aus 2001 match in PM Modi’s Pariksha Pe Charcha message

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the students of the country to learn from failure to become successful in life.

At the third edition of ‘Pariksha pe Charcha’ – Prime Minister’s interaction with students ahead of their exams – he gave the analogy of the unsuccessful launch of Chandrayaan 2, India’s moon mission, last year.

“Some people advised me against going to Chandrayaan mission launch saying ‘there is no surety’, ‘what if it fails?’ I said that is precisely why I should go there. Even I was disturbed by the failure of Chandrayaan 2, but then I went to talk to the scientists and motivated them. I expressed my feelings and praised their hard work and about nation’s dreams. The mood changed, not just there, but across the country,” PM Modi said.

“What happened after that, you all know. Sometimes you can learn from failure,” he added.

He also talked about the 2001 India vs Australia match at Kolkata. Citing the example of Anil Kumble, who was injured during the match but still played and won the match, he said that it depends on us how we deal with the troubles.

He also gave examples of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. “Our team was facing setbacks and the mood wasn’t great. But, we can never forget how Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman turned the match around. This is power of positive thinking and motivation,” PM Modi said.

The programme has been organised by the government as stress-buster for the students, where PM Modi is sharing tips to perform under pressure.

Around 2,000 students from all over the country are participating in the programme; 1,050 have been selected through short essays on five topics.

The programme is being moderated by two students.

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No pardon for Delhi gang rape convict Mukesh Singh, MHA tells President

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Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked President Ram Nath Kovind to reject Delhi gang rape convict Mukesh Singh’s plea for mercy, according to news agency Press Trust of India. Shah’s recommendation to the President that ends any possibility of Mukesh Singh escaping the gallows is reported to have been sent last night, people familiar with the development said.

Mukesh Singh, 32, had filed a last-minute petition to President Kovind for a presidential pardon that could spare him the gallows. A Delhi judge had ordered his execution on January 22 along with his three other accomplices who were convicted for gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedic student on her way home.

A formal order by President Ram Nath Kovind, who is obliged to go by the advice of the Cabinet – in this case, the home ministry – is expected to be issued later in the day.

But the mercy plea may have already delayed the execution of the four convicts.

A Delhi judge, who was hearing Mukesh Singh’s plea for cancelling the death warrants issued for 7 am on January 22, had yesterday pointed to the law that gives death-row convicts 14 days’ time to prepare for their execution. Additional Sessions Judge Satish Kumar Arora, who had on January 7 issued a black warrant, is expected to rule on the execution warrant later in the day.

People familiar with procedures to deal with death row convicts say that the execution of the four convicts would be delayed every time a convict files a mercy plea.

The three other death-row convicts – Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Thakur (31) and Pawan Gupta (25) – are yet to file one and can do so at any point.

Mukesh Singh was the cleaner of the bus that the paramedic student boarded on 16 December 2012 night along with a friend. They had watched a movie at Saket and were on their way home.

She was gang-raped and tortured by the six people on the bus, sparking public outrage across India and bringing thousands of people onto city streets to protest the failure to ensure women’s safety. She died on December 29 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

One of the six got away with a three-year-jail term because he was a juvenile when the offence was committed. The sixth, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide.

The six were convicted within a year of the crime. But it has taken years to decide the appeals that they filed.

Mukesh Singh filed the mercy petition this week after the Supreme Court rejected his curative petition. The petition, which had come to the city government for its comments, was recommended to be rejected by the state government. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told reporters that his government had made its recommendation to reject the petition at ‘lightning speed’.

The recommendation was formally forwarded by Lt Governor Anil Baijal to the home ministry yesterday morning. Home Minister Amit Shah took less than a day to clear the file and send it to President Kovind for the final orders.

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