Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Spy balloon
- CAR- T Cell therapy
- Primary Agriculture Credit Society
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Spy Balloon
Context: The United States shot down a Chinese ‘spy’ balloon, days after the surveillance device was first spotted over American airspace, bringing the dramatic saga that played on televisions and social media to an explosive climax and dealing yet another blow to already strained diplomatic relations between the two sides.
What are spy balloons?
- Spy balloons are high-altitude surveillance tools that usually operate at 80,000-120,000 feet — well above the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft — to gather intelligence and carry out other military missions.
- Typically, a spy balloon is equipped with cameras and imaging devices suspended beneath the gas-filled white object to capture things of interest. Unlike satellites, balloons are economically viable.
- Due to their proximity to Earth’s surface, they can widely scan an area from close quarters and capture clearer, high-resolution images of the target.
- The practice of using Spy balloons became widespread during World War I and was used extensively during the Cold War, when the US launched hundreds of balloons to gather intelligence on the Soviet Union and China.
- While their use has declined with the rise of unmanned drones and satellites, many countries still employ spy balloons.
How do these balloons navigate?
- Most of these balloons literally go where the wind blows.
- There can be a little bit of navigation, but there are certainly not people aboard them.
- They sometimes have guiding apparatus on them that change a balloon’s altitude to catch winds going in particular directions.
What are the uses of surveillance balloons?
Spy balloon surveillance technology can be used for a wide range of purposes, including:
- Signal intelligence (SIGINT): Balloons equipped with specialized sensors and equipment can be used to gather signals intelligence, allowing the intelligence community to intercept and analyze communication signals, such as voice and data transmissions, to gather information on foreign governments, military forces, and other organizations.
- Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT): Balloons can also be used to gather geospatial intelligence to produce high-resolution images and maps of the ground and monitor changes over time.
- Human intelligence (HUMINT): Balloons can be used to gather human intelligence to monitor individuals, organizations, and activities on the ground.
- Electronic intelligence (ELINT): Balloons allow the intelligence community to intercept and analyze signals from foreign military and other electronic systems to gain insights into their capabilities and intentions.
Why do countries use spy balloon surveillance technology?
- Many countries used spy balloons for a variety of purposes including deploying tethered balloons equipped with cameras and other sensors for surveillance along the countries’ borders, refugee camps, and for monitoring large crowds during public events.
- Balloon surveillance technology has also been used for environmental monitoring in hard-to-reach areas such as forests and mountainous regions, and for rescue operations where real-time aerial images of affected areas are needed.
Why Countries uses surveillance balloons instead of satellites?
- Surveillance balloons are cost-effective and versatile compared to satellites.
- They can be deployed quickly from the ground and don’t require a launch vehicle.
- They can also be positioned at lower altitudes compared to satellites, allowing for closer and more detailed observations.
- Surveillance balloons are also easier to maintain – they can be retrieved, repaired, and relaunched relatively easily compared to satellites
- The disadvantage is that these are not directly steered but can be roughly guided by changing altitudes to catch different wind currents, as per a study by the Air Force’s Airpower Research Institute. They are also a relatively easy target.
2 . Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies
Context: The three major forms of treatment for any cancer are surgery (removing the cancer), radiotherapy (delivering ionising radiation to the tumour), and systemic therapy (administering medicines that act on the tumour). Surgery and radiotherapy have been refined significantly over time whereas advances in systemic therapy have been unparalleled. A new development on this front, currently holding the attention of many researchers worldwide, is the CAR T-cell therapy.
What are CAR T cells therapy?
- Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies represent a quantum leap in the sophistication of cancer treatment.
- Unlike chemotherapy or immunotherapy, which require mass-produced injectable or oral medication, CAR T-cell therapies use a patient’s own cells.
- They are modified in the laboratory to activate T-cells, a component of immune cells, to attack tumours. These modified cells are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream after conditioning them to multiply more effectively.
- The cells are even more specific than targeted agents and directly activate the patient’s immune system against cancer, making the treatment more clinically effective. This is why they’re called ‘living drugs’.
How does it work?
- CAR T cells therapy is a relatively new type of immunotherapy that involves extracting a patient’s immune cells (also known as T cells) from the blood and injecting them in a laboratory with a new gene that specially attack a molecule called a chimeric antigen receptor on the surface of the tumour cells.
- When returned to the patients, the t cells are more aggressive and attack the cancer cells like guided missile.
Evolution of Systemic therapy
- Systemic therapy’s earliest form was chemotherapy; when administered, it preferentially acts on cancer cells because of the latter’s rapid, unregulated growth and poor healing mechanisms.
- Chemotherapeutic drugs have modest response rates and significant side-effects as they affect numerous cell types in the body. The next stage in its evolution was targeted agents, also known as immunotherapy.
- Here the drugs bind to specific targets on the cancer or on the immune cells that help the tumour grow or spread.
- This method often has fewer side-effects as the impact on non-tumour cells is limited. However, it is effective only against tumours that express these targets.
Where is it used?
- CAR T-cell therapy has been approved for leukaemia’s (cancers arising from the cells that produce white blood cells) and lymphomas (arising from the lymphatic system).
- These cancers occur through the unregulated reproduction of a single clone of cells, that is, following the cancerous transformation of a single type of cell, it produces millions of identical copies. As a result, the target for CAR T-cells is consistent and reliable.
- CAR T-cell therapy is also used among patients with cancers that have returned after an initial successful treatment, or which haven’t responded to previous combinations of chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
- Its response rate is variable. In certain kinds of leukaemias and lymphomas, the efficacy is as high as 90%, whereas in other types of cancers it is significantly lower.
- The potential side-effects are also significant, associated with cytokine release syndrome (a widespread activation of the immune system and collateral damage to the body’s normal cells) and neurological symptoms (severe confusion, seizures, and speech impairment)
3 . Primary Agriculture Credit Societies
Context : The Union Budget has announced Rs 2,516 crore for computerisation of 63,000 Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS) over the next five years, with the aim of bringing greater transparency and accountability in their operations and enabling them to diversify their business and undertaking more activities.
What are Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS)?
- PACS are village level cooperative credit societies that serve as the last link in a three-tier cooperative credit structure headed by the State Cooperative Banks (SCB) at the state level. Credit from the SCBs is transferred to the district central cooperative banks, or DCCBs, that operate at the district level. The DCCBs work with PACS, which deal directly with farmers.
- Since these are cooperative bodies, individual farmers are members of the PACS, and office-bearers are elected from within them. A village can have multiple PACS.
- PACS are involved in short term lending — or what is known as crop loan. At the start of the cropping cycle, farmers avail credit to finance their requirement of seeds, fertilisers etc. Banks extend this credit at 7 per cent interest, of which 3 per cent is subsidised by the Centre, and 2 per cent by the state government. Effectively, farmers avail the crop loans at 2 per cent interest only.
- A report published by the Reserve Bank of India on December 27, 2022 put the number of PACS at 1.02 lakh. At the end of March 2021, only 47,297 of them were in profit. The same report said PACS had reported lending worth Rs 1,43,044 crore and NPAs of Rs 72,550 crore. Maharashtra has 20,897 PACS of which 11,326 are in losses.
Why are PACS attractive?
- The attraction of the PACS lies in the last mile connectivity they offer. For farmers, timely access to capital is necessary at the start of their agricultural activities. PACS have the capacity to extend credit with minimal paperwork within a short time.
- With other scheduled commercial banks, farmers have often complained of tedious paperwork and red tape. For farmers, PACS provide strength in numbers, as most of the paperwork is taken care of by the office-bearer of the PACS.
- In the case of scheduled commercial banks, farmers have to individually meet the requirement and often have to take the help of agents to get their loans sanctioned. NABARD’s annual report of 2021-22 shows that 59.6 per cent of the loans were extended to the small and marginal farmers.
- Since PACS are cooperative bodies, however, political compulsions often trump financial discipline, and the recovery of loans is hit. Chairpersons of PACS participate in electing the office-bearers of DCCBs. Political affiliations are important here as well.
4 . Millets
Context : The Union Budget has accorded high priority to millets — grains such as jowar, bajra, ragi — citing their health benefits. “We are the largest producer and second largest exporter of ‘Sree Anna’ (millets) in the world… The Indian Institute of Millet Research-Hyderabad will be supported as the Centre of Excellence for sharing best practices, research and technologies at the international level,” the Finance Minister said.
India’s millets push
- Two years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted India’s resolution to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Through the year, several central ministries and government organisations will work towards promoting this “nutri cereal”. Delegates at G20 meetings will be given a “millet experience” through tasting, meeting farmers, and interactive sessions.
- Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has said that food regulator Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) will formulate guidelines to include millets in the food menu of schools, hospitals, and government canteens. Hospitals such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences are working to set up a “millets canteen” to produce millets-based foods from March onward.
- The Youth Affairs Ministry has done webinars and conferences with leading athletes, nutritionists, and dieticians on millets through the Fit India app.
- The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has organised millet fair-cum-exhibitions in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh; the diversity of Indian millets will be showcased at international trade shows.
- Indian embassies in more than 140 countries will organise exhibitions, seminars, and cooked millet dish competitions.
- The government also intends to increase procurement of these grains under the public distribution system. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said last year that it was time for public distribution programmes to focus on a more diverse food basket to improve nutritional status.
What are the benefits of millets?
- Millets are both eco-friendly and healthier than more commonly consumed grains. They require much less water than rice or wheat, and can be grown in rain-fed areas without irrigation. Belonging to the grass family, millets tend to be more tolerant to drought and extreme weather, and can grow in poor soil and in hilly areas.
- Millets can be a healthier option to keep lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes at bay. Switching out the regular grains can be especially beneficial in India, which is considered to be the diabetes capital of the world. It is projected that the country will have 69.9 million diabetics by 2025. Indians are also at a high risk of cardiovascular diseases at a young age.
- Millets have a much lower glycaemic index — a measure of how much blood sugar levels spike after consuming a food item — than processed rice or wheat. A low glycaemic diet can help in controlling weight and blood sugar levels, consequently reducing the risk of heart disease or even cancers.
- Millets are also high in fibre content that is known to improve gut microbiota. They result in satiety faster and keeps people fuller for longer, thereby reducing the amount of food consumed.
- They are rich in micronutrients such as iron and zinc, which can help reduce the country’s burden of anaemia. The incidence of anaemia increased from 58.6% to 67.1% in children ages 6-9 between the two rounds of the National Family Health Survey in 2015-16 and 2020-21. In women ages 15-49, it increased to 57% from 53.1%.
- Millets also contain niacin, which is linked to lowering triglycerides and increasing HDL or good cholesterol. Millets contain no gluten and suit people with gluten allergy and irritable bowel syndrome.
Some red flags
- Although millets have a low glycaemic index, they are not a low-calorie option. If you are going to consume millets in unrestricted amounts, you will lose out on any nutritional gains,” Also, the grains should not be polished or processed like rice or wheat — doing so will raise their glycaemic index, and benefits will be lost.
5 . Facts for Prelims
5 Kakar’s of Sikhism
- In Sikhism, the Five Ks are five items that Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in 1699, commanded Khalsa Sikhs to wear at all times.
- The 5 Ks taken together symbolise that the Sikh who wears them has dedicated themselves to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru.
The Guru introduced them for several reasons:
- Adopting these common symbols would identify members of the Khalsa
- Because all members of the Khalsa wear the 5 Ks the members of the community are more strongly bound together
- Each K has a particular significance
The five Ks are:
- Kesh (uncut hair)- One’s hair is part of God’s creation. Keeping hair uncut indicates that one is willing to accept God’s gift as God intended it
- Kara (a steel bracelet)- A symbol of restraint and gentility. It acts as a reminder that a Sikh should not do anything of which the Guru would not approve.
- Kanga (a wooden comb)- This symbolises a clean mind and body; since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy.
- Kaccha (cotton underwear)- It’s a symbol of chastity.
- Kirpan (steel sword)- it symbolises Spirituality; The soldier part of the Soldier-Saints; Defence of good
- Shaligram stones are fossils of ammonite, which is a type of mollusc that lived between 400 million and 65 million years ago.
- Shaligram stones are dated specifically from the Early Oxfordian to the Late Tithonian Age near the end of the Jurassic Period somewhere between 165-140 million years ago
- These stones are mostly found in riverbeds or banks of the Kali Gandaki, a tributary of the Gandaki River in Nepal,
- This stone is revered by Hindus who believe it to be a representation of Lord Vishnu.
- According to Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu was cursed to become the Shaligram stone for “betraying the chastity of the goddess Tulsi”
- The stone is considered to have divine powers and is seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.
- Broadly, the term alderman refers to a member of a city council or municipal body; however, their specific roles and responsibilities differ according to the context.
- Under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the administrator can nominate 10 individuals over the age of 25 to the corporation. These aldermen are expected to have special knowledge or experience in municipal administration and assist the House in taking decisions of public importance.
- Article 243R of the Constitution, which describes the “Composition of Municipalities”, says that “The Legislature of a State may, by law, provide…for the representation in a Municipality of…persons having special knowledge or experience in Municipal administration…Provided that the persons…shall not have the right to vote in the meetings of the Municipality.”
- Section 3(3)(b)(i) in Chapter II (Constitution of the Corporation) of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, says: “Ten persons, who are not less than 25 years of age and who have special knowledge or experience in municipal administration, to be nominated by the Administrator: Provided that the persons nominated under this sub-clause shall not have the right to vote in the meetings of the Corporation.”