Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Interim budget 2024: No election sops required
The most striking bit about the interim budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is the absence of election sops—which earned her lavish praise:
Ahead of the 2024 general election, finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman chose to place long-term welfarism over short-term populism, and in the process, delink the budget from the ballot. This strategy of aspirational welfarism over pragmatic populism is akin to a gambit—a chess move sacrificing an obvious electoral opportunity for a subsequent positional gain.
But everyone also admits that the government can afford to take the lofty route—since the BJP knows that it will be reelected. Here are some of the other highlights:
Two: Fiscal deficit refers to the money that the government borrows from the market to bridge the gap between its expense and income. Sitharaman says the fiscal deficit is now 5.8%—down from 6.4% the year before. Target for FY 2025: 5.1%.
Three: The most important clue: The government has no intention of conducting a census anytime soon—given the paltry amount allocated to it. It has been indefinitely postponed since 2020/2021. The last census data we have is 2011. The Hindu has more on why this matters.
Four: The government raised the capital expenditure target for next year by 11.1% to Rs 11.11 trillion (11.11 lakh crore). Capex refers to the money spent on building assets like roads, schools and hospitals. A reminder: Last year, the government had increased capex by a whopping 33% to Rs 10 trillion (lakh crore). Deccan Herald has more on why this is a good thing.
The EU bails out Ukraine
The context: Over the course of a year, Ukraine’s fortunes have been upended. It now finds itself stuck in a war of attrition against an enemy that has both the manpower and resources to “bleed it dry.” Most alarmingly: the US Congress has refused to approve a $60 billion aid package for Kyiv—and Kyiv was slated to run out military equipment and money by March. Our Big Story has lots more details.
What happened now: The European Union has approved a much-needed €50-billion lifeline. Brussels was able to drag Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on board—who was steadfastly blocking the aid package. Why the agreement matters:
For Ukraine, it offered stability and assurance as American aid is held up in Congress. For the E.U., it demonstrated European resolve to stand united in support of Ukraine against Russia, even if the United States wobbles, as well as a determination to bring an often obstructionist Mr. Orban to heel.
Formula 1 shocker: Lewis Hamilton exits Mercedes
The race car champion is leaving Mercedes for Ferrari for the 2025 season. It is a “multi-year deal”—so he won’t be back anytime soon. Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013—replacing the legendary Michael Schumacher—and has won six titles since. But he has not won a grand prix since December of 2021—and has been struggling against his rival Max Verstappen. The Athletic has lots more on why Hamilton made the big move. (SBNation)
Mukesh-bhai moves in on Disney
The so-called merger is looking more like a sastaa buyout. According to a Mint exclusive, Reliance will buy 60% in Disney Star’s TV channels and Hotstar for $2.28 billion to 2.4 billion. That’s a valuation of $3.8 billion to 4 billion—a hefty discount for Mukesh-bhai:
At its peak, Disney+Hotstar had 61.3 million paid subscribers, which dropped to 37.6 million in the last quarter after the streamer lost the rights to the Indian Premier League and did not renew its deal for HBO Originals. The valuation of the India business is a major markdown from its peak, when Disney acquired it from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox as part of a global deal. Disney paid $71.3 billion for the entertainment assets of Fox in 2018, valuing Star India at over $15 billion.
Mint has all the details of the deal—but it’s behind a paywall.
Counting snow leopards in India
A first of its kind government survey revealed India is home to 718 snow leopards—which is 10% to 15% of the global population. Ladakh has the highest number (477)—followed by Uttarakhand (124) and Himachal Pradesh (51). Apart from the endangered status of the leopards, this survey is also important because they are “an apex predator in the Himalayan ecosystem”—and have a huge influence on its ecological equilibrium.
Hindustan Times has more on the survey. Bonus pic: Snow leopards use their tails to cover their faces for additional warmth—and look ridiculously adorable doing so. No, we couldn’t resist.
Moving on to doggos: A British study looked at the life spans of various purebreds—and found the following: Smaller dogs and those with elongated snouts live longer than large breeds and those with flattened faces. So the winners are the Lancashire Heeler (15.4)—followed by the Tibetan Spaniel (15.2) and Bolognese (14.9). The news is more dire for the Caucasian Shepherd Dog (5.4). The most surprising finding:
The researchers also found that purebred dogs, as a group, had average life spans of 12.7 years compared with 12.0 years for crossbred dogs. That survival advantage for purebred dogs contradicts some prior research and could stem from the fact that all crossbred dogs — regardless of size or breed mix — were combined into a single category, scientists said.
New York Times (splainer gift link) has the entire list listing life spans for various breeds—if you want to look your pooch up:)
Tomato juice is a salmonella killer!
A new study found that tomato juice is highly effective in killing Salmonella Typhi—which causes life-threatening typhoid fever. The reason: the fruit (or veggie?) has small proteins called peptides with antimicrobial properties that destroy the bacteria. But this doesn’t mean tomato juice is a magic cure for typhoid fever. Rather, it is a good reason to include more tomatoes in your diet. Why this matters: Typhoid is treated with antibiotics—but antimicrobial resistance is widespread. (Science Alert)
Explained: Why moths are fatally attracted to light
Scientists have finally figured out why moths and other insects madly throw themselves at any light source. Turns out their evolutionary instinct has been bamboozled by modern lighting:
[M]oths and many other insects that fly at night evolved to tilt their back to wherever is brightest. For hundreds of millions of years, this was the sky rather than the ground. The trick told insects which way was up and ensured they flew level.
But then came artificial lighting. With fresh sources of illumination to contend, moths found themselves tilting their backs to street lamps. This sent them into endless loops around the lamps, the insects trapped by their evolutionary instincts.
In other words, they are trapped by artificial light and then doomed to an endless and fatal loop. There is a Kafkaesque novel in there somewhere. FYI: Scientists have long blamed light pollution for the massive decline in insect populations. You can watch a video of the experiment here. (Scientific American, paywall, Smithsonian Magazine)
Yet another RWA bullying story
Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s daughter Suranya Aiyar is in trouble for a social media rant against the “Hindu chauvinism” surrounding Ram Mandir. She has been accused of “hate speech” by the Resident Welfare Association—and asked to “move out.” The weird bit: Suranya claims that she doesn’t live in the building. Why any of this matters: This may be the first time an RWA has demanded the eviction of a resident for their social media posts. (The Print)
Three things to see
One: Social media giants—X, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and Discord—were once again summoned by Congress to defend their bad behaviour. This time the focus was the effect of their platforms on the mental health of kids. The hearings were especially fraught due to the presence of anguished parents. It even prompted an unexpected apology from the Zuck. (Reuters)
Two: Check out the teaser for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s first-ever web series ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’—which is about courtesans in 1940s Lahore. The setting offers the perfect excuse for the signature Bhansali aesthetic. The cast includes Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari and Richa Chadha. There is no release date for the Netflix series as yet. (Indian Express)
Three: Also a much-anticipated trailer: season 3 of ‘Abbott Elementary’! It will premiere on February 7 on Hulu (in the US) and Disney+ Hotstar (in India).