Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 06 February 2023

Spy balloons spotted over US airspace

GS Paper - 3 (Defence) 

Days ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned visit to China, the Pentagon alleged that a Chinese spy balloon the size of "three buses" was spotted over US airspace, adding further tension to increasingly fraught ties between the two superpowers. In the age of high-tech drone-based aerial reconnaissance and spy satellites, a spy balloon does come off as an unorthodox choice for espionage, but the use of high-altitude balloons for surveillance is a tried-and-tested method that goes back over a century.

What exactly is a spy balloon?

  1. spy balloon or an observation balloon is, as the name suggests, a hot air balloon purposed for surveillance.
  2. While earlier observation balloons would have men in binoculars carrying out manual reconnaissance, modern-day observation balloons typically carry espionage equipment such as cameras and other sensors.
  3. They typically operate at altitudes of 80,000-120,000 feet, well above the altitudes at which commercial airlines operate.

When did spy balloons come into use?

  1. First used during the Battle of Fleur in the French Revolutionary Wars, observation balloons came into mainstream military use during the American Civil War in the 1860s.
  2. A little over half-a-century later, the use of observation balloons for military purposes peaked as both sides in World War I resorted to the widespread use of these devices for guiding long-range artillery.
  3. During World War II, the Japanese weaponised hot air balloons to drop incendiary bombs on US territory. While the experiment proved successful, the outcome wasn't ideal: the Japanese failed to destroy military targets and instead left civilian casualties.
  4. After the end of World War II, despite the advent of increasingly advanced forms of aerial surveillance, the US revived their interest in observation balloons, leading to a series of large-scale missions dubbed Project Genet.
  5. Observation balloons were also used for espionage during the earlier years of the Cold War, before more advanced forms of aerial reconnaissance became mainstream.

Why use spy balloons over spy satellites?

  1. While observation balloons aren't as sophisticated or versatile as spy satellites, they do offer some considerable advantages over their advanced successors.
  2. The lack of sophisticated technology in observation balloons makes them a far cheaper alternative to spy satellites.
  3. Further, while spy satellites can be used to survey territory with extreme accuracy, observation balloons are able to scan wider swathes of territory over longer periods of time, and from a lower altitude, as per a US Air Force report from 2009.


Government on track to fiscal deficit targets

GS Paper -3 (Economy)

In the Union Budget for 2023-24, the Finance Minister chose the path of relative fiscal prudence and projected a decline in fiscal deficit to 5.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in FY24, compared with 6.4% in FY23. The government planned to continue on the path of fiscal consolidation and reach a fiscal deficit below 4.5% by 2025-26.

Direction on fiscal deficit given in the Budget

  1. In the Union Budget 2023-24, the fiscal deficit to GDP is pegged at 5.9% in FY24. This ratio has declined from 6.4% in 2022-23 (revised estimate) and 6.7% in 2021-22 (actual).
  2. In the revenue budget, the deficit was 4.1% of GDP in 2022-23 (revised estimate). In the Union Budget 2023-24, revenue deficit is 2.9% of GDP.
  3. If interest payments are deducted from fiscal deficit, which is referred to as primary deficit, it stood at 3% of GDP in 2022-23 (RE).
  4. The primary deficit, which reflects the current fiscal stance devoid of past interest payment liabilities, is pegged at 2.3% of GDP in Union Budget 2023-24.

Allocations for some sectors

  1. The major allocations that have been pared down are food, fertilizer and petroleum subsidies.
  2. The food subsidy in 2022-23 (RE) was ₹2, 87,194 crore. In 2023-24, it was reduced to ₹1, 97,350 crore.
  3. The fertilizer subsidy in 2022-23 was ₹2, 25,220 crore (RE); it has been reduced to₹1, 75,100 crore for FY24.
  4. The petroleum subsidy in 2022-23 was ₹9,171 crore (RE); it has declined to₹2,257 crore in 2023-24 (Budget estimate/BE).
  5. It is a laudable decision to extend food security to the poor for one more year amid rising inflation.
  6. Rationalisation of subsidies is important so that the government can move towards reaching a fiscal deficit target of 4.5% by 2025-26.

For maintaining growth:

  1. The interest rate management by the RBI through inflation targeting alone cannot effectively control inflation, given the supply side shocks. Therefore, fiscal policy measures are crucial to tackle mounting inflation.
  2. The RBI has been increasing policy rates to tackle mounting inflation. But a high interest rate regime can hurt the economic growth process.
  3. The fiscal policy needs to remain “accommodative” with focus on gross capital formation in the economy with enhanced capital spending, especially infrastructure investment.
  4. In Budget 23-24, capital spending is expected to rise to 3.3% of GDP. The interest-free loan of ₹1.3 lakh crore for 50 years provided to States should help them spend and boost growth.
  5. It has been stressed that infrastructure investment has a larger multiplier effect on economic growth and employment.

Government stick to fiscal consolidation:

  1. The Government has not deviated from the path of fiscal consolidation. In Union Budget 2023, the medium-term fiscal consolidation framework stated that there is a need to reduce the fiscal deficit-GDP ratio to 4.5% by 2025-26 from the current 6.4%.
  2. It is due to revenue uncertainties in post-pandemic times and also geopolitical risks, mounting inflation, supply chain disruptions and energy price volatility.
  3. The Government has kept the fiscal policy “accommodative”, and has undertaken capital spending to support economic growth recovery.
  4. The predominant mode of financing fiscal deficit in India is through internal market borrowings. It is also to be financed through securities against small savings, provident funds and an insignificant component of external debt.
  5. In Union Budget 2023, India’s external debt is pegged at₹22,118 crore of the total fiscal deficit of ₹17, 86,816 crore in 2023-24 (BE), which is approximately about 1%.
  6. In Union Budget 2023, it is also stated that the States will have to maintain a fiscal deficit of 3.5% of GSDP of which 0.5% will be tied to power sector reforms.


Ladakh and the Sixth Schedule

GS Paper -3 (Environment)

Sonam Wangchuk completed his five-day “climate fast”, in an effort to draw the attention of Indian leaders to the region’s fragile ecology and to secure its protection under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

About Sonam Wangchuk:

  1. He is an education reformist and an engineer, and is known for taking on multiple challenges to improve the lives of the people of Ladakh and to protect the region’s ecosystems.
  2. He has received various prizes, including the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award. He is also the founding director of HIAL (Himalayan Institute of Alternatives).

Ladakh’s fragile ecology:

  1. Due to melting glaciers in the Ladakh region and the resulting effects on the region’s ecology, Ladakh and the Himalayas form the ‘third pole’ of the world and are among its few frozen freshwater sources.
  2. The Himalayas, along with all glaciers and river basins, are also called the “water tower of Asia”.
  3. Glaciers in Ladakh have been melting at an alarming rate. According to a study published in 2021, glaciers in the Pangong region retreated around 6.7% between 1990 and 2019.


Ladakh is a cold desert and extremely sensitive to climate change. People of the region depend on glaciers to fulfil their water needs.

The melting of glaciers has three effects on the lives of Ladakh’s people:

  1. They lose potable water; agriculture practices specific to the region are threatened; and sustainable practices that support life in the region, like surviving on a minimal quantity of water, are slowly eroded.
  2. Loss of sustainable practices due to scarcity of water may also affect the livelihoods of locals and their cultural heritage, and force them to migrate.

Impact on biodiversity of the area:

The flora and fauna of Ladakh are highly evolved to survive in harsh climatic conditions and will be threatened due to changes in the local ecosystems.

Climate change and rainfall:

  1. It is possible climate change will lead to excessive rainfall in Ladakh by around 2045 due to global warming. An increase in temperature has a direct impact on precipitation in an area, which changes agriculture practices.
  2. Unabated development in sensitive areas can also lead to land subsidence like we recently witnessed in Joshimath since Ladakh is even more fragile than Chamoli district.

Sixth Schedule of the Constitution:

  1. The Sixth Schedule of India’s Constitution protects tribal populations and provides autonomy to communities to frame laws on land, public health, agriculture, etc.
  2. Currently, ten Autonomous Development Councils exist in the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  3. Ladakh was previously protected under Article 370, but the Indian government’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status removed the provisions for Ladakh as well. Ladakh became a Union Territory.
  4. In response to a report tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in Rajya Sabha, the Home Ministry said in December 2022 that the main objective of including tribal population under the Fifth/Sixth Schedule is to “ensure their overall socio-economic development, which the UT Administration has already been taking care of since its creation. Sufficient funds are being provided to Ladakh to meet its overall developmental requirements.
  5. The standing committee recommended the inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule because its tribal communities account for 79.61% of its total population.


Jupiter beats Saturn with most moons

GS Paper -3 (Space)

Astronomers have discovered 12 new moons around Jupiter, putting the total count at a record-breaking 92. That's more than any other planet in our solar system. Saturn, the one-time leader, comes in a close second with 83 confirmed moons.

More about the news:

  1. The Jupiter moons were added recently to a list kept by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre.
  2. They were discovered using telescopes in Hawaii and Chile in 2021 and 2022, and their orbits were confirmed with follow-up observations.
  3. These newest moons range in size from 0.6 miles to 2 miles (1 kilometer to 3 kilometers).
  4. Jupiter's newly discovered moons have yet to be named. The only halves of them are big enough — at least 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) or so — to warrant a name.
  5. All the newly-discovered moons are small and far away from Jupiter, taking more than 340 days to orbit the gas giant.
  6. Many of these moons have a retrograde orbit, meaning that they orbit in the opposite direction of the inner moons. This hints at the fact that Jupiter probably captures these moons.
  7. Only five of these moons are larger than 8 kilometres. It is likely that the smaller moons were probably formed from larger objects fragmented by collisions.
  8. The European Space Agency is sending a spacecraft to Jupiter to study the planet and some of its biggest, icy moons.
  9. Next year, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper to explore Jupiter's moon of the same name, which could harbor an ocean beneath its frozen crust.
  10. Jupiter and Saturn are loaded with small moons, believed to be fragments of once bigger moons thatcollided with one another or with comets or asteroids. The same goes for Uranus and Neptune, but they're so distant that it makes moon-spotting even harder.
  11. For the record, Uranushas 27 confirmed moons, Neptune 14, Mars two and Earth one. Venus and Mercury come up empty.

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