Will Swacch Bharat Abhiyan succeed?

India saw a long chain of efforts to eradicate open defecation. It is a shame that even after such sustained efforts around 60 crore people (>50% population) defecate in open. It is said that around a 1000 lives are lost every day because of diarrhea for which open defecation is a major reason.

With effect from 1 April 1999, the Government of India restructured the Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme and launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which was later (on 1 April 2012) renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). Thousands of Nirmal Bharat Puruskar were distributed. Most of the Panchayats who received the award have regressed back to open defecation. In my city (Aurangabad, Bihar) – 56000 toilets have been constructed till now by PHED department under different schemes with an expenditure of 23 crore rupees. 

On 2 October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, which aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019, thus restructuring the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Truthfully, I was very skeptical about this programme for a long time. It is only very recently that I have started participating in the programme. And I can tell you that this is one of the best programmes to work in the development sector. It helps me work with the people at the ground level. Now, let me get down to some misconceptions which I had about this programme.

  1. I thought that people will not change their habits easily. However I found that people respond well to trigger when approached systematically. The CLTS approach is intended to provoke people to think about the harms they are doing to their children, especially their daughters by continuing to defecate in open. They are provoked by playing a kind of drama in the public. Public is asked to drink water from a bisleri bottle. They are then shown how flies sit on excreta and sits on water or food. Using a straw, tiny amount of excreta is mixed with water which is then offered to all. Obviously, no one drinks it. But they realise the point we want to convey. Most of the people get immediately ready to begin construction of the toilets in their homes.
  2. People have some land to construct toilets. They all have bathrooms in their homes where they take bath. A toilet can be constructed partitioning that space.
  3. People have water source within 10-20 meters in my district. Almost all women take bath at home for which they require at least 20 liters of water each. For other domestic requirements also, they need water in plenty. If they can fetch that much of water, they can surely take 2 mugs extra for use in toilet. It should be noticed that the rural toilet pans require only 2 mugs of water at the maximum including for self rinsing.
  4. There are always some motivated people who think for their village. They volunteer to become Vigilante committee members and go to the field every day morning to sound whistle at anyone seen defecating or going to do that. This causes great embarrassment to these people. People defecate in open because they know that every body else is doing that. When they realise that not many people are doing it they start feeling embarrassed.
  5. In SBA also, money is paid by the government after the toilet is constructed. So, many argue that people do not have the capacity to spend that much beforehand. Actually, people can do that easily or they get material on loan for a period of 10-15 days given that there is a surety of time payment by the government officials.
  6. The government officials are generally slow in processing the subsidy request but not in SBA where monitoring is tight and regular progress in disbursal is to be shown. We achieved disbursal to all 96 beneficiaries in one village in less than 15 days.
  7. There are simple techniques which have to be kept in mind to avoid a situation in which the constructed toilets remain unused. It happens also because of that facts that toilets are not friendly to be used in all weathers. I asked people to build toilets with clay tiles rather than tin sheets. This makes them air and smell free. Further, people were asked to leave small ventilation holes in all walls so as to make the toilets more usable. I asked people to make cheap doors using oil tins which costs them only Rs 60. This way they can save around Rs 1000 which also acts as a motivation for them. The two pit toilets can be easily constructed in less than 11,000 rupees.

Toilet Construction

Overall, we were successful in making 2 villages open defecation free in just 20-25 days. These villages are Parsa and Sinduriya in Rajpur Panchayat in Nabinagar block. I have visited these villages are regular intervals and found that the momentum is carried forward and the village is still OD free.

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Death wins over life in Siachen

“We, the willing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” Notes from the diary of a soldier who served in Siachen. (Original quote by Mother Teresa.)

India and Pakistan may have their guns aimed on each other at Siachen, but in reality they are both fighting nature, nature defeating them and being defeated by them. At 20,000 feet the world’s largest glacier outside the North and South Poles, Siachen is the world’s highest battlefield.

Till 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any presence on the glacier, the distrust on Siachen began over mountaineering expeditions. As per the 1949 Karachi Agreement, the cease-fire line between India and Pakistan for disputed Jammu and Kashmir was described as running to map coordinate NJ 9842 and “. . . thence north to the glaciers”.

This line was never demarcated over the glaciers keeping in view the utterly inhospitable climate of Siachen. While India interpreted that the LOC here should extend to the last demarcated point NJ 9842 northeasterly along the Saltoro Range to the Chinese border, Pakistani interpreted that the LOC extends straight from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass towards the Chinese border. The 2003 ceasefire has ensured cessation of military hostilities, but fatalities have not stopped; more soldiers have been killed by the extreme weather conditions than by the conflict.

Military presence at Siachen costs India almost a million US dollars daily, annual costs for maintaining the Siachen outposts for India are around 300 million US dollars and for Pakistan about 100 million US dollars. Although both Indian and Pakistan have not been divulging any causality figures but we know that Indian soldiers are killed every now and then.

Soldiers stationed in temperatures as low as -60 C with fierce snowstorms that can reach speeds of 300 km per hour (150 knots) takes more toll than any military confrontation here could.

Majority of Indian outposts are above 18,500 ft altitude (some at 22000 ft), Indian Army controls the Siachen heights while Pakistan Army controls the Gyong La passes. In terms of accessibility Pakistan army is better off since the road head is only 20 km away from its farthest post, while on the Indian controlled side the road head is about 80 km away its farthest post.

Soldiers coming back from these posts often suffer from vision problems, hearing and memory loss (prolonged use of oxygen masks). Frost bite in such places may lead to loss of feet and hands.

Of all the issues between India and Pakistan, Siachen should have been the easiest to resolve since it involves a lifeless chunk of ice that is inhospitable for any human population. But like other issues between the two countries, this one is also been converted into a ‘nationalistic pride’ by hawks on both sides. It is these extreme elements who have been ensuring that any resolution aimed, confidence building between the two countries are held hostage to a general mistrust. All war mongering experts on both sides of the divide who advocate continuance of the Siachen war should for a change be asked to walk their talk by serving at least one soldier’s term at these outposts.

Supplies on both sides for thousands of troops stationed there and the leftovers have created Siachen as the worlds ‘largest and highest’ garbage dump. Whatever of supplies and ammunition goes up the Siachen glacier never comes back. Almost more than 40% of the thousands of tons of garbage left at Siachen are plastic and metal. Worn out ammunition, crashed transport, supply canisters, rotten and done away food, plastics, discarded cloth and missed para droppings; everything forms part of this irretrievable garbage dump.  Since the ice glacier lacks any biodegrading agents, whatever garbage is dumped at Siachen percolates into the glacier system and eventually releases harmful toxins like cadmium and chromium into the glacial water system, polluting the water that flows downstream into Shyok and finally into Indus. The waters of Indus feed millions of people downstream both in India and Pakistan.

The Siachen conflict is seen as a pointless battle, where the human and economic costs far overweight the achievements. A withdrawal from Siachen region would not put India and Pakistan at any loss if proper monitoring mechanisms were put in place. The challenge however is to put in place a withdrawal system where no side is shown to have lost face or security.

The hawks may portray a withdrawal from Siachen as a window for Kargil type incursion; in reality such hype may not have any basis or connection to the strategic location of Siachen. The deployments across pockets of Siachen are so tough and thinly placed that any major advances from these areas may not be possible. Implementation of efficient monitoring systems could easily counter such concerns. If Sharm-al-Shaikh on the Sinai peninsula, Egypt could be designated an ecosystem, jointly managed by Egypt, Israel and Jordan why can’t the wilderness of Siachen be?

Siachen being a part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, the tussle between India and Pakistan on this piece of ‘real estate’ is seen more of egos, than of strategies.

Leaving Siachen as an eco-park where either of the militaries have no presence can not only stop the glacier from further degradation, save countless human lives downstream, but also set precedence for resolving the bigger Kashmir issue. If India and Pakistan cannot come to terms on a Godforsaken habitation less glacier which neither controlled till 1984, how can they ever come forward to resolve the more contentious Kashmir issue where human tragedy has been endless?

The posts of Siachen are obscure islands where each soldier, each human is left to fend for himself, cutoff from the real world.  It is these places sanity and insanity coexists closely in the same mind and body, the tripping point towards insanity so thin and undefined. It often becomes a race against a still time when civilization is reduced to a kerosene fume filled snow bunker in the midst of a white, unforgiving desert. In such situations it is not the opposite side that is a soldier’s biggest enemy but the merciless nature. The cost of an inconsequential battle is often unseen by the state, borne by the uncelebrated soldier. It is high time peace and sanity prevails over jingoistic nationalism. India and Pakistan can surely find better use to the money, men and efforts that they are freezing in the high wilderness of Siachen. Let Siachen lead the way for Kashmir.

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा – इंदीवर

A truly patriotic song which can be heard all over India on 15 August and 26 January. It is informative as well. I like this song as it is not jingoistic or boasting. Some may disagree that India is getting regressive or such progressive society is a long gone story. I only have to say that even if one falls on the road for a moment, he/she doesn’t become any less important. India will rise up to its core values and we all have to work towards it – One person at a time.

जब ज़ीरो दिया मेरे भारत ने, दुनिया को तब गिनती आई
तारों की भाषा भारत ने, दुनिया को पहले सिखलाई

देता ना दशमलव भारत तो, यूँ चाँद पे जाना मुश्किल था
धरती और चाँद की दूरी का, अंदाज़ लगाना मुश्किल था

सभ्यता जहाँ पहले आई, पहले जनमी है जहाँ पे कला
अपना भारत वो भारत है, जिसके पीछे संसार चला
संसार चला और आगे बढ़ा, ज्यूँ आगे बढ़ा, बढ़ता ही गया
भगवान करे ये और बढ़े, बढ़ता ही रहे और फूले-फले

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा, मैं गीत वहाँ के गाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

काले-गोरे का भेद नहीं, हर दिल से हमारा नाता है
कुछ और न आता हो हमको, हमें प्यार निभाना आता है
जिसे मान चुकी सारी दुनिया, मैं बात वही दोहराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

जीते हो किसीने देश तो क्या, हमने तो दिलों को जीता है
जहाँ राम अभी तक है नर में, नारी में अभी तक सीता है
इतने पावन हैं लोग जहाँ, मैं नित-नित शीश झुकाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

इतनी ममता नदियों को भी, जहाँ माता कहके बुलाते है
इतना आदर इन्सान तो क्या, पत्थर भी पूजे जातें है
उस धरती पे मैंने जन्म लिया, ये सोच के मैं इतराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

पुष्प की अभिलाषा – माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी

I love this poem since I first read it in primary school. Simple words, powerful message!

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के
गहनों में गूँथा जाऊँ,

चाह नहीं प्रेमी-माला में
बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ,

चाह नहीं, सम्राटों के शव
पर, हे हरि, डाला जाऊँ

चाह नहीं, देवों के शिर पर,
चढ़ूँ भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ!

मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली!
उस पथ पर देना तुम फेंक,

मातृभूमि पर शीश चढ़ाने
जिस पथ जावें वीर अनेक।

The Curious case of Crimea and Her Big Neighbour

One year back how many of you heard about an area called Crimea? I guess, not much people. All of a sudden this area on northern coast of Black Sea; once controlled by Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Byzantines, Golden Horde, Ottomans etc. became a political hot potato. If that Malaysian plane episode was not there, this place would have occupied 80% of international prime time.
A little bit of History
Crimea’s association with Russia officially starts with the conquest of Crimean Khanate by Russian Empire under ‘Catherine the Great’ in 1783. Russian Empire fought hard for this place. Later, from 1853-56 Russia fought with French, British, Ottoman, Sardinia and their allies for Crimea; which later came to known as Crimean war.
After Russian civil war, Crimea became a part of Soviet Union. The twist came in 1954, when Khrushchev transferred this region to Ukrainian SSR. He might not have imagined that, Soviet Union would break up. However, that too happened in 1991 and Crimea became a part of independent Ukraine.
Russian Navy
By the way let me tell you one more interesting fact here. Russian Navy has three Military districts,
1. Western (head quartered in Severomorsk, Kaliningrad),
2. Southern (head quartered in Sevastopol, Astrakhan) and
3. Eastern (head quartered in Vladivostock).
You can locate these places in maps and see where they are. Vladivostock is very far away from Moscow; Severomorsk opens to Barents Sea; Kaliningrad is not geographically connected to Russia. This increases the importance of Black Sea Fleet head quartered at Sevastopol (this place is in Crimea).

Containment after 1991?

US and western powers, might have thought about containing Russia by wooing former Warsaw Pact countries to EU. Russia made some noises when some of them eventually joined EU and later in NATO. Meanwhile EU expansion started touching the doors of former Soviet Union member states. For Russia, Poland or some former Warsaw pact countries joining EU is one thing, and Ukraine joining EU is altogether a different thing. Problems in Ukranian capital, between groups having support from Western Capitals and Russia’s own Victor Yanukovich only made the matters worse.
Washington Post reports that, “Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia, election officials said Sunday, capping a heavy-handed campaign that blocked most voters from hearing a vision for any alternative to unification with Moscow. Crimean election Spokesman Mikhail Malyshev said the final result was 96.77 percent to rejoin Russia and 2.51 percent against.”
Will Putin annex Cremia to Russia? May be yes, in any way there isn’t much scope for a truly independent Cremia.
Vladimir Putin - Riding a bear

Vladimir Putin – Riding a bear

What will happen next?
Will US and allies really impose crippling sanctions on Russia? Or all these hue and cry are just for the sake of making some noises? I think US have limited options here. They need Russian support in Syria, they need Russian support in pulling out rest of their troops from Afghanistan. At the same time, US needs to reassure their Eastern European allies on security. They also need to show to rest of the world that, they are in control.
However, it is difficult for European countries to impose sanctions on Russian. Many of them depends on Russian oil and gas for fuelling their economy. The main question here is, will Western European nations sacrifice Russian relationship for Ukraine, which anyway doesn’t occupy much higher place in European strategic calculations (if they have one)? I don’t think so.
US still holds some cards here. They can open their huge gas reserves to their allies on other side

of the Atlantic (in case Russia reduced the oil and gas supply) to get their support. This will help US to get EU support for imposing tough sanctions on Russia. I think there will be some sanctions, and suspension on talks. Nothing further. This crisis may still go in the same way of Georgian question went. Situation may change if entire Ukraine became unstable.

China and Syria might be smiling… for time being South China Sea and Syrian crisis went further down in emergency list.

Prime Minister or Crime Minister

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(Pic – Narendra Modi)

Narendra Modi is the front runner for the Prime Ministerial post after the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Few observations:

1. He does not want anyone to talk about the communal riots. Remember the interview with Karan Thapar. Apology for failure of his government to protect citizens in 2002 Gujarat riots is too much to ask for.

2. He does not want to talk about crony capitalism. He has not spoken a word about Natural Gas Pricing or Sahara refund issue. It is an open secret that Gujarati industrialists like Adani are pumping in money for his campaign.

3. He has learnt the marketing tricks from none other than – Arindum Chaudhary.

4. The Iron Man keeps on challenging Rahul, Manmohan for a debate but cant even muster courage to meet ex Delhi CM.

5. He does not want to discuss the nuances of “Gujarat Growth Model.” The infallibility of this model and the man behind it is the same as that of Manusmriti.

6. He does not want to answer any question live on TV. Only pre-screened questions on Chai pe charcha are allowed!

7. The man boasts of his 56 inch chest. I wonder, had he been a woman, the rhetoric would have been of D cup!

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(Pic – Arnold Schwarzenegger here (Only Google can remember the spelling ))

So, for reasons unexplained he will be a great Prime Minister.

What now?

The gang rape victim has died but not before shaking us from slumber. Frankly, I have no right or expertise to lecture any girl on safety issues. But isn’t it surprising that girl’s self-defence training is not even in discussion topics of most families. Male members assert their right and duty to protect the females by accompanying them out a few times and restricting their movement in general. Housewives anyway have a million problems everyday so they don’t want to add another by worrying about daughters.
The fearsome situation is not going to improve in next many years. So, here are a few suggestive ideas which can add to personal safety a little bit.

1. We should accept that such a problem exists and our vulnerabilities can be reduced by making ourselves better prepared. Why is it that even in Delhi, very few girls participate in the self defence exercises? Why is it that NGOs, informal association (kitty party groups?) cannot rope in trainers to have some basic training for girls. Girls spend months learning dance for cousin’s marriages. Why not some basic defence techniques? It is true that one might not overcome heavily built men with it, but who knows, a little trick might save a life one day. And it will certainly give a lot of confidence which will prevent from panicking in crucial time. And since it is a matter of life and death, I don’t understand the apathy that we show.

self_defense

2. Girls should get a protection kit (pepper spray, small pointed knife, a whistle to raise alarm). I read that if the girl confidently speaks out loud or show initial signs of stiff resistance, most of assailers would turn away to look for easier targets. I understand that it is so draggy to remember keep all this stuff every time one steps out. Especially when it has not happened with us yet and is statistically, a rarity. But then, robbery seldom happens while we have to lock our doors all the time.

3. There should be a personal standard operating procedure when girls travel late. This would include texting the number of auto to some friend who can track you while you reach back safely. Keeping a watchful eye all the time (stalkers, potential help) and holding your belonging close to avoid snatching. I follow these myself!

4. Demand proper street lighting and CCTV cameras from municipal corporation/council.

5. Please help when you find someone in this kind of trouble. Often passers do not help the victims to avoid becoming official eye-witness. I understand it can be really troublesome given the fact that the victim (this time) was not our daughter.

6. Finally, every mother should try to make their sons a little softer and daughters a lot tougher. And yes, watch Kill Bill

She died while we slept

Tales of a grossly horrific rape and torture are over all media for past many days. Despite our prayers and some last moment political gimmicks by the government, she died. She fought hard and now rests in peace.

Here, I would articulate a few points worth noting:

# This rape and death means nothing to any politician. They just tried to duck the responsibility and make the most of the issue. Shiela Dikshit tried to get rid of the Police Commissioner. She played very cheap tricks for that.

# Youth icon Rahul Gandhi was totally absent from the scene. It can be remembered that he cooked up stories of rapes in Bhatta-Parsol, UP last year to gain political mileage. He has no credibility to loose but now any slightest hope of his being any different is gone.

# Home Minister Shinde personally ordered application of water canon, tear gas and lathi-charges. When they could not break the fortitude of young students, he called a press conference in which he wore his scornful grin compared women demanding safety to Maoists.

# It is really sad that a policeman on duty died. He might have got some bruises in minor scuffles with students while the lathi-charges. But it is more than evident that he collapsed because of a heart problem. Nonetheless, Delhi Police is trying to make the most of this death. Their assertion that the protest marches are violent enough to kill a cop gives them right to open fire next.

# President’s son and newly elected Lok Sabha member, Abhijit Mukherjee called the protesting girls to be dented-painted chicks who protest in day and dance in clubs at night. This disdainful statement is the least that can be expected of our politicians. These hopeless losers know only communal-caste-crime-money based politics and can’t withstand the fact that a few confident girls can come out of home and ask for their rights.

India gang-rape protester

# A senior lady scientist in Bhopal observed that the girl should not have ventured out in night with her boyfriend (any guy you go out with, is your boyfriend). And once she did get caught by 6 men, she should not have resisted the rape. This way she might have avoided the gruesome torture. Howsoever gross this statement is, it can still shed some light. I don’t think there is anything sexually enjoyable in these kind of rape. It is more about the satisfaction which these usually losers get by domination, by being in a position to decide the fate – life and death of someone, the sadistic pleasure they derive from screams. In several researches, sex-workers tell horrors of brutal deeds done to them by their customers. It ranges from burning by cigarettes to inserting any possible object in private parts. Apparently, these men don’t feel like getting value for money by doing regular sex. So being a researcher herself, I believe the lady must have meant this – once you are in an unavoidable situation – show that you are in intense pain and reluctantly cooperate. This might save you intestines and life. (I know this is awful)

# Congress President of their Andhra Pradesh unit reminded us that girls have mistaken the meaning of freedom for India. According to him, the fact that India has become independent doesn’t give a girl any right to venture out at 9 pm.

# A senior Delhi police officer said that nobody is safe here – even guys loose their wallets and mobile phones. So what’s all this fuss about women safety.

# A policeman was curious to know what the girl was doing with that guy. He guessed that the two must be doing something obscene which excited the 6 men and hence whatever then happened was inevitable and they had it coming.

In such a scenario many realists argue that what is that we have achieved out of these candle light marches? They say that nothing is gained from protests or facebook messages. But I see a brighter hopeful picture here. I believe my whole nation is rising. A whole generation is getting awakened and becoming conscious of its rights (and their deprivations).
In Indian political arithmetic, there was no place for middle class educated people. Because they were never united and were never a vote bank for any party. Now, they are a force none will ignore. So these popular movements herald a new era where candidates will have to talk sensible to get elected. These politically aware voters must not be more than 5%. But in these days, the margin between electoral victory and loss is even lesser than that. So, I see that while identity based politics will go on for sometime, rationality and reforms can’t be ignored anymore. It is now the time for the politicians to get dented-painted.

Head hung in shame

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It is not the first time that a girl/woman is raped. Neither is it the first brutal one. I know no statistics but world over (194 countries), my estimate is that at least 1,000 women must have been suffering this fate every single day. One among the several prices they pay for being a female.

But every once in a while a particular case penetrates the shield of deliberate ignorance which we create around us and shakes our conscience. In the national capital, a young student was careful enough not to be alone while being out and had a male friend to protect her. She did not go with notorious rickshaws but used a public transport. But for what? To get heinously beaten up first and then get violated by a gang of beasts.

Violated, dishonoured, ‘outraged her modesty’ …. we have invented so many euphemistic terms for such a monstrous violence. Murder is bad too as it ends a life. But what of rape? What all it ends? Life, happy life, social life, self-respect, careers, dignity in society, families, dreams or just everything.

When I was small, my mother passed away. But I am lucky to have a Mosi who is more than mother to me. Countless friends and cousins made this life worthwhile. Also I had lovely teachers for whom I will always remain obligated to. My first boss showered motherly love on me. And I have the nicest soul-mate in the world. They all love me to their core and so do I. A girl spreads love in all her incarnations – mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, daughter. They fill colours to the life, bind families and are the cause and reason for our existence.

My heart aches when such cruelty happens. I despise the argument that since not all men commit rape. I have no involvement and hence no blood on my hands. But isn’t it that all rapists are men. If I rejoice in and feel proud for a cricket match won by some unrelated young Indians, should not my head hung down in shame now?

blood on hands

I do not intend to give any preachings or arguments. I just want to pray. She will be in my prayers, today and hereafter.

Our hearts are broken too

47% of Americans own a gun

25% of Americans suffer mental illness during their lifetime

Connect the dots and answer is simple. These shootings and mass killings are inevitable. How many metal detectors can we install in schools, hospitals and churches? How can we stop people from killing themselves at home?

In Pakistan, you have to indoctrinate a child for years in the name of Islam and Allah. You have to train him in camps in occupied Kashmir. In USA, all you require is let him have access to guns. Every single innocent soul has watched enough TV, played enough computer games to know this form of pressure releasing pleasure. They feel life is worthless and all others are fools to look for sense in everyday affairs. So, why not liberate them?

Before ending, I should mention that I really like the way Barak Obama reinforces his point. This time with impactful words and a few imaginative vapours.

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