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EDITORIALS

Captain in a hurry
The new Punjab Act takes on the S. Court

W
hatever the merits and political compulsions of Punjab's decision to annul water agreements may be, the haste and the hush-hush manner in which it was implemented are baffling even to those who believe in the righteousness of its case. The Bill was drafted in great secrecy and was rushed through the Assembly in indecent haste. Although all MLAs joined the plan, the main mover was Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who acted in a frenzied manner.

Problem of numbers
Centre can’t abdicate its responsibility
T
he Planning Commission’s observations against the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for its failure to implement various projects and initiatives for population control are alarming. In a paper, Yojna Bhavan has voiced concern on the increasing population growth and feared that the situation would worsen by 2015 if remedial steps were not taken.





EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
Among the best
Indian companies come out of the shell
I
T is a moment of pride for Indians in general and the corporate sector in particular that at least four Indian companies have joined the Fortune 500 group comprising the world’s largest corporations in terms of sales. Till last year, IndianOil was the only company from India to make it to the elite club.
ARTICLE

Mending fences with neighbours
New challenges for Indian diplomacy
by G. Parthasarathy
H
ER Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s envoy in Kathmandu, Mr Keith Bloomfield, appears to be one of those who still believe that the sun never sets on the British Empire and that the Europeans must still carry the “white man’s burden” of telling the “natives” of the Indian sub-continent how they should govern themselves.

MIDDLE

One good deed
by Harish Dhillon
L
ast month I dreamt I was at the pearly gates. The archangel Gabriel looked weary and in need of comfort and I forgot all my own fear and awe. He sat me across the table and opened his ledger. There were hundreds of closely written entries all down the left hand page. “Your wrong doings please,” he said severely.

OPED

Shimla’s ageing deodars face extinction
Haphazard urbanisation shrinks green cover
by Pratibha Chauhan
I
magine Shimla without the green canopy of deodars. The dark thought is not an alarmist’s tunnel vision but a possible nightmare. The majestic trees which have survived and graced the “Queen of Hills” for more than a century, now face a bleak future.

From Pakistan
No business at prayer times
PESHAWAR:
In connection with the Islamisation agenda of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani has announced enforcement of Nizam-e-Salat all over the province.

  • Hiring of retired judges opposed
  • Towards City Councils
  • Ban on wheat movement


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EDITORIALS

Captain in a hurry
The new Punjab Act takes on the S. Court

Whatever the merits and political compulsions of Punjab's decision to annul water agreements may be, the haste and the hush-hush manner in which it was implemented are baffling even to those who believe in the righteousness of its case. The Bill was drafted in great secrecy and was rushed through the Assembly in indecent haste. Although all MLAs joined the plan, the main mover was Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who acted in a frenzied manner. The aim was apparently not to find a solution but to save his own skin. The good Captain knew that sentiments in the state had been aroused to a feverish pitch over the issue and any politician who talked of a judicious compromise was bound to be treated as a deserter. So, he took a self-serving and precipitate step. Reports now trickling out suggest that he was keen to ensure that even if at all he had to quit his post, he should do so in a trail of perceived glory so that he could come back on a later date. That other Punjab politicians also realised this compulsion was clear from the fact that the Akalis and others became willing partners in the dangerous game that has made Punjab stand isolated in the national scheme of things.

The Captain's own party, which is lending the coalition government at the Centre is feeling embarrassed and the Prime Minister and the Congress have made it known to him that he ought to have consulted the Central leadership before taking the extreme step.

An unfortunate aspect is that other dramatis personae also decided to think on their feet. Even the Governor took no time in signing on the dotted line, unmindful of the fact that the Bill was extremely unusual and by implications tried to take on the Supreme Court. He did not exercise his option of holding wider consultations on the subject. Of course, the July 15 deadline was staring the state in the eye but heavens would not have fallen if the Governor had mulled over the issue for at least 24 hours before appending the signature.

It is also surprising that Centre did not know what exactly was cooking at Chandigarh particularly when the Congress is in power both in Delhi and Punjab. Had the Centre or the Congress high command intervened earlier, the raging controversy would not have reached the flashpoint. Even if a Chief Minister takes a blinkered view, the Prime Minister has to assess the situation from an all-India perspective. Undoing the damage will be far more complicated than preventing a rash legislation.
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Problem of numbers
Centre can’t abdicate its responsibility

The Planning Commission’s observations against the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for its failure to implement various projects and initiatives for population control are alarming. In a paper, Yojna Bhavan has voiced concern on the increasing population growth and feared that the situation would worsen by 2015 if remedial steps were not taken. Clearly, the Union Ministry’s lackadaisical attitude is deplorable because it is expected to play a leadership role in executing various birth control schemes. If it does not take the initiative, show dynamism and direction, how would it convince the states about the crucial need for population control?

Union Health Minister Dr A. Ramdoss has drawn up a list of 150 districts in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — to carry out population control projects. Targeting the five states because of their “high fertility status” may seem justifiable, but the Ministry has a long way to go. According to the National Family Health Survey (1998-99), about 25 per cent of fertility cases in the country are unwanted due largely to unfulfilled needs of contraception. Surely, the Centre cannot abdicate its responsibility or policy.

India’s population is increasing by about 50,000 a day. The country may not be able to manage the burgeoning population in view of the limited land, water and capital resources. Literacy and health care do help promote birth control. But on both these fronts, the picture is not encouraging. Most primary health centres (PHCs) in the countryside lack infrastructure, training and critical inputs. As a result, they carry out sterilisations only in occasional camps and not regularly. The government should encourage participation by panchayats and local communities in villages to give a boost to the population control programme. Private hospitals could also be paid for services like contraception counselling, supplies, tubectomy and vasectomy operations, consultations, check ups and so on. The nation cannot afford to lose time in fight against the numbers.
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Among the best
Indian companies come out of the shell

IT is a moment of pride for Indians in general and the corporate sector in particular that at least four Indian companies have joined the Fortune 500 group comprising the world’s largest corporations in terms of sales. Till last year, IndianOil was the only company from India to make it to the elite club. With a turnover of $25,316 million, IndianOil has improved its position from being 191st on the list to 189th this year. Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum are the two other public sector giants to achieve the global distinction. With sales of $11,327 million, Reliance Industries has become the country’s first private sector company to feature on the Fortune magazine’s 2004 list, which has Walmart at the top.

The growth story of these companies, particularly Reliance Industries, has been remarkable. From very humble beginnings, Reliance has achieved stupendous growth, both in the pre- and post-liberalisation era. The Indian corporate success story, however, pales into insignificance when compared with that of other Asian countries. Asia’s top five companies — Toyota Motors, Nippon, Hitachi, Honda Motors and Sony — belong to Japan. As against four entries from India, 15 Chinese companies have made it to the Fortune 500 list this year. Last year China had only three entries.

Liberalisation, no doubt, has unleashed the hidden potential of India’s corporates. After the initial clamour for protection, Indian companies are shedding their inhibitions and gearing themselves up for global competition through technological upgradation and by availing cheaper credit from abroad. Apart from a conducive environment for growth, the appreciation of the Indian rupee against the US dollar has also helped the Indian companies to improve their sales. The rupee went up by about 5 per cent vis-a-vis dollar during the last financial year.
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Thought for the day

Words are cheap. The biggest thing you can say is ‘elephant’.

— Charlie Chaplin

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Mending fences with neighbours
New challenges for Indian diplomacy

by G. Parthasarathy

HER Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s envoy in Kathmandu, Mr Keith Bloomfield, appears to be one of those who still believe that the sun never sets on the British Empire and that the Europeans must still carry the “white man’s burden” of telling the “natives” of the Indian sub-continent how they should govern themselves. Bloomfield recently suggested that while the UK and its partners in the European Union had the right to advise the Kingdom of Nepal on how it should deal with its problems of Maoist violence, India should not interfere in this matter. He conveniently forgot that while his country was not going to suffer any adverse effects if things got out of hand in Nepal, there would be serious consequences for India if the Maoist menace spread into the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mr Tony Blair and Mr Jack Straw, however, understand Indian imperatives better than their opinionated envoy to Nepal. They realise that India and the United Kingdom share a common interest in peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region and that British interests are not served by antagonising India.

Mr Bloomfield’s comments came when India and China were going through the rituals of reaffirming their commitment to Panchsheel or the “five principles on peaceful coexistence” enunciated in 1954. These so-called “five principles” include “non-interference in internal affairs” and “equality” among nation-states. China violated these principles soon thereafter by arming and training insurgent groups in our North East. Jawaharlal Nehru swore allegiance to “non-interference” after Indian intervention ensured that the tyrannical rule of the Ranas in Nepal was effectively ended. Oddly enough, the reaffirmation of the five principles took place just after a visit to Nepal by External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, which largely dwelt with measures that Nepal and India could take to deal with Maoist violence in Nepal.

India has been advising Nepal that Maoist violence can be effectively countered only by a judicious mix of military force and political accommodation. The European Union, however, advocates a virtual appeasement of the Maoists. The Americans, who, like New Delhi, have provided military assistance to Nepal, initially placed excessive emphasis on military means. Detailed consultations between Washington and New Delhi have, however, led to a broad agreement in their approach to developments in Nepal.

We have avoided publicly commenting on the internal affairs of our neighbours, unless developments in these countries spill into our soil. We intervened militarily in Bangladesh only after the influx of over 10 million refugees posed an intolerable burden. Our intervention in Sri Lanka arose only after the effects of ethnic violence there were felt in Tamil Nadu. And despite the fact that both General Zia-ul-Haq and General Musharraf sponsored terrorism within India, we did not comment on military takeovers and the suppression of democratic rights in Pakistan. The role of the United States and its western allies in cozying up to military dictatorships in Pakistan has established that their approach to developments across the world is motivated exclusively by their perceived strategic interests and not by any great moral or ethical considerations.

We did, however, digress from this approach towards our neighbours in the immediate aftermath of the military crackdown in Myanmar in 1988. We condemned the military takeover and extended diplomatic support to pro-democracy forces in Myanmar. We soon found that this approach had disastrous consequences, as we shared a 1600-kilometre common border with Myanmar, across which smuggling, narcotics trade and the movement of insurgents became rampant. Myanmar consequently decided to seek integration with ASEAN and virtually shut off its links with its South Asian neighbours, as India was adopting a hostile posture and Bangladesh fomenting an Islamic insurgency in its Rakhine (Arakan) province. More ominously, China stepped in to fill the vacuum created by Indian and western hostility. It commenced an extensive programme of economic and military assistance while evidently preparing the ground to acquire bases and military facilities in Myanmar.

Concerned by the violence and drug smuggling in our northeastern states and by the growing support that Indian insurgents like ULFA, the NSCN (IM) and the PLA of Manipur were receiving from the Bangladesh government, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao undertook a review of policies towards Myanmar. It was decided that we would join Myanmar’s ASEAN partners in a policy of “constructive engagement”. This policy involved greater coordination and cooperation in stabilising Myanmar’s borders with Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram and dealing jointly with issues like cross-border terrorism and narcotics smuggling. Those involved in its implementation included the then External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee and Mr. J.N. Dixit. It was a meeting that Mr J.N. Dixit had with Myanmar’s present Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt that transformed our relations with Myanmar into one of mutually beneficial cooperation.

India’s relations with Myanmar improved immensely with the policies adopted since 1993. Myanmar soldiers laid down their lives while fighting Indian insurgent groups like the ULFA, the PLA and the NSCN in May 1995. More recently, the peace process in Nagaland was strengthened when the Myanmar army took scores of casualties in clamping down on the NSCN (Khaplang). Even today the cooperation of the Myanmar army is important to deal with the terrorists who have fled from Bhutan. This is especially because Bangladesh continues to provide haven, shelter and support to anti-Indian terrorist groups. It was, therefore, surprising to hear Mr. Natwar Singh publicly express support and sympathy for the Myanmar opposition leader in his first Press conference after assuming office. Since there is no reference to such a policy change in the Common Minimum Programme, and the Cabinet Committee on Security had not been constituted when he made this statement, one wonders whether Mr. Natwar Singh consulted either his senior colleagues like Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, or National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit before his Press conference.

Reports from Myanmar indicate that after recent exchanges with the new government, there is now serious concern in Yangon about India’s policies. Myanmar’s support for dealing with cross-border terrorism can no longer be taken for granted. This could jeopardise the lives of our security forces in the North-East. New Delhi should consider whether our national security interests are better served by joining the Americans and the British in selectively targeting the military regime in Myanmar, or by coordinating our policies with those of our friends in ASEAN like Singapore. One cannot see how Indian national interests are served by joining western powers that condemn Myanmar’s alleged violation of democratic rights while condoning and tacitly supporting such violations in General Musharraf’s Pakistan.

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One good deed
by Harish Dhillon

Last month I dreamt I was at the pearly gates. The archangel Gabriel looked weary and in need of comfort and I forgot all my own fear and awe. He sat me across the table and opened his ledger. There were hundreds of closely written entries all down the left hand page. “Your wrong doings please,” he said severely. I began to list my evil deeds and he ticked them off on his list. From time to time he gave a languid swing of his left wing to remind me that even though he was dealing with mortals, he himself belonged to the celestial plane. When I had finished he looked up and smiled.

“You missed only five.” I bristled with the injured pride of a school teacher who, because he knows the name of practically every child in his school, is sure that he cannot forget anything else.

“Which five?” I asked “Oh never mind. Now, for your good deeds. Remember, a good deed is one that you performed consciously and deliberately to help another: a deed performed with total disinterest, from which you gained no direct or indirect benefit.” I pondered over this: there was no such deed that I could remember.

“You seem a good sort. I’ll give you another chance. Come back again in a few days.”

The next few days were each more depressing than the last because I couldn’t remember a single good deed in my 63 years.

Then my friend Rajbir bailed me out. He had met Kuldeep, a constable in the Delhi Police, at a social gathering. Kuldeep had lost his leg in an accident while chasing a group of lawbreakers and had now been fitted with a sophisticated artificial limb and was leading a normal life. He said this had been made possible by a Dr Dhillon from Mohali. I blushed with embarrassment and said quickly: “It must have been some other Dr Dhillon.”

I lied. Kuldeep had flagged my car down and asked for a lift. He was on crutches and in a mood of deep despondency. I tried to cheer him up by hitching up my trousers and showing him my own artificial leg.

“But my own limb is so clumsy I cannot wear it,” he said. The police welfare fund only extended to the supply of clumsy, outmoded prosthetics. I bullied and cajoled my friend DCP Sudhir Yadav till he found a way to finance Kuldeep’s sophisticated artificial limb.

Rajbir’s visit had given me my ticket to heaven. But when I found myself at the pearly gates again last night and the angel asked for my good deed I was tongue-tied. I couldn’t bring myself to mention Kuldeep — I could not destroy the purity of my one good deed by bartering it away. I would keep it to myself even if it meant that I would have to go to the other, less fortunate place.

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OPED

Shimla’s ageing deodars face extinction
Haphazard urbanisation shrinks green cover
by Pratibha Chauhan

Trees in Shimla are decaying or being indiscriminately chopped off.
Trees in Shimla are decaying or being indiscriminately chopped off. — Photo by Anil Dayal

Imagine Shimla without the green canopy of deodars. The dark thought is not an alarmist’s tunnel vision but a possible nightmare. The majestic trees which have survived and graced the “Queen of Hills” for more than a century, now face a bleak future.

The green ambience of Shimla may drastically change in the near future with the rapid decay of more than century-old deodars, supplemented in equal measure by indiscriminate felling that contribute to the ever-proliferating concrete jungle.

Hundreds of deodar trees may go off the face of Shimla in immediate future as per the latest research undertaken by the Himalayan Forest Research Institute due to severe decay setting in these trees, some of which could be 150 years old.

Rapid urbanisation, haphazard construction activity, which flouts the spirit of the existing law protecting the green cover of the town, and a depleting soil cover are sounding the death knell for the trees which have survived through the British Raj and witnessed many historical moments associated with the town in independent India.

The institute has begun an exercise to devise ways to prevent this catastrophe through a last-ditch attempt to save at least some of the decaying deodars. Some of the affected trees have been found to be infested with termites, beetles, larva and other micro-organisms. The bark of the trees has been severely affected with the roots also decaying.

The institute has suggested that apart from taking preventive measures, focus should be on regeneration so that the ageing deodar forests of Shimla have saplings, pole crop and middle and upper storey trees as is the case in a properly managed forest.

It has submitted its research report to the Municipal Corporation, Shimla, suggesting treatment measures and regeneration of trees within the heritage zone with quality seedlings of deodar.

Of course, the present malady is symptomatic of the overall ecological degradation in the hills. Over the years, the area under forest cover in the town has been shrinking. “Shimla town had 832 hectares of forest when the settlement process was undertaken by the British in 1882. However, since then a lot of diversion of land to Central and state public works departments and other agencies has been done, so the area under green cover has drastically reduced,” says a forest officer.

As per the 1985 working plan of the state Forest Department, it was estimated that there were about one lakh trees of various varieties in and around Shimla, of which at least 50 per cent were deodars. The forest officials are now trying to take up the matter of holding a fresh settlement with the government so that the extent of damage and the exact number of existing trees and the area under it can be ascertained.

On its part, the Shimla Municipal Corporation has launched the enumeration process which will be completed in another fortnight. Efforts will be made to ascertain the extent of the problem by counting the number of trees which will have to be axed, those which can be saved through proper treatment and the number and variety of trees that need to be planted.

“Once the enumeration process is complete, we will prepare an action plan, which will cover all aspects, including treatment, regeneration and scientific forest management,” says Mr J.S. Chauhan, Divisional Forest Officer, Municipal Corporation. The exact number of affected deodar trees is not known, but sources say it can touch 1,500.

The Forest Research Institute has stressed for immediate removal of the dead wood, which is beyond treatment. The deodars infested with termites or other micro-organisms spread the disease to other trees.

“Unfortunately a majority of the deodar trees in and around Shimla are ageing, a fact clearly visible from the flat or table top developed by them,” explains Mr Surinder Singh, Director of the Himalayan Forest Research Institute. And aged trees are vulnerable to disease.

An average deodar grows to live for nearly 150 to 180 years and majority of the trees in and around Shimla have attained their full age. The trees at various places in the city like Khalini, Ram Chandra Chowk, Jakhoo and Mashobra were examined. In areas around Jakhoo and Ram Chandra Chowk it was found that the ground was covered only with buildings, road and retaining walls. In the Khalini area, the forest land was littered with garbage, polythene and human soil. It was only in Mashobra, on the outskirts of the town, that a thick humus layer existed.

After the ground work in the deodar belt of the town, the institute has pinpointed problems of pest infestation, pathogen infection, age of trees, urbanisation and biotic pressure on tree health and their association with mortality.

Environmentalists point out that the flat top tree, often noticed in Shimla, is a serious cause for concern as the tree at this stage loses vitality to fight pathological attacks. The tree also stops production of seeds, thus depriving the forest of the young seedlings, saplings and pole stages of the crop.

This problem is rooted in the unhindered construction activity in the town. Predictably, the maximum number of trees which are drying or decaying are in areas which have witnessed haphazard construction activity, leading to the compaction of soil. “When the roots of the tree are restricted in a cube and the water regime of the tree is disturbed due to the construction of a retaining wall, within a year the texture of the leaves will darken, curl up and finally cause drying of the tree,” explains Mr Surinder Kumar. While the top is ageing, hardly any undergrowth is visible, he says.

The glory of the town, which was established by the British for a population of 10,000, has been on the wane. Crumbling under the pressure of local population, which has touched two lakh, the situation becomes even grimmer during the peak summer months when the town is flooded with almost 1.50 lakh tourists.

Environmentalists stress that unless legislation is made or a campaign is undertaken to motivate every settler in and around Shimla to plant at least five saplings in the open spaces around their house, the town may lose its lungs.
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From Pakistan
No business at prayer times

PESHAWAR: In connection with the Islamisation agenda of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani has announced enforcement of Nizam-e-Salat all over the province.

He urged the businessmen and people from other circles to cooperate with the government for making it a success. In this connection, the Chief Minister highlighted the role of trade, business and other professional circles. He said that during prayers times the trade and business circles needed to suspend their routine activities for 10 to 20 minutes.

The Chief Minister made it clear that the MMA was determined to fulfil its agenda regarding the enforcement of Islamic Shariah. The Nizam-e-Salat could be considered a positive step towards the Islamisation process, he remarked and said that it would also help implement the Hasba Bill. — The Nation

Hiring of retired judges opposed

LAHORE: The Supreme Court and Lahore High Court bar associations say that lawyers will be constrained to launch another movement if retired judges are sent to the Supreme Court to fill four vacancies existing since December 31 last year.

SCBA president Tariq Mahmood and LHCBA president Ahmad Awais at a news conference here on Monday referred to certain newspaper reports that former SC judge Karamat Nazir Bhandari and some others were being sent to the apex court.

They also quoted similar reports as suggesting that the chief justices of high courts of Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan were being elevated to the Supreme Court. They said all efforts were aimed at retaining the Lahore High Court chief justice and the regime was again creating a situation for the lawyers to agitate.

They said any such move would be in violation to the principles of the seniority of judges as spelled out by the Supreme Court in the Al-Jihad Trust case in March 1996 (judges case). — The Dawn

Towards City Councils

LAHORE: The revival of the defunct municipal committees with a new nomenclature of City Councils is on the cards, as the federal government has decided in principle to amend the Local Government Ordinance to make room for the desired change.

According to sources, consent of the four provinces has already been sought in this regard and the proposal is awaiting approval of the President.

The municipal committees existed in all the small cities of the country and performed municipal functions within the urban areas when they were abolished in August 2001 to facilitate the formation of district governments under the devolution plan.

Under the proposed plan, the City Councils would perform the municipal functions within the municipal limits, leaving the rest of such responsibilities for the Tehsil Municipal Administrations (TMAs) concerned that would have their own sphere of operation within the rural limits of the respective districts. — The Nation

Ban on wheat movement

LAHORE: The Punjab government has yet to lift the ban it had imposed on inter-provincial wheat movement, though it has relaxed its inter-district movement.

A meeting in this regard was held a couple of days ago in Karachi with Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Husain in the chair. It was attended by Punjab Food Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal among others.

The provincial government agreed in principle at the meeting to lift the ban but it said that the decision would be taken later in Islamabad.

When contacted, the Punjab Secretary, Food, affirmed that the provincial government was yet to lift the ban on inter-provincial wheat movement. — The News
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Live in the world, but be not wordly. As the saying goes, make the frog dance before the snake, but let not the snake swallow the frog.

— Sri Ramakrishna

The absence of the thought of self is the essential characteristic of the love for God.

— Swami Vivekananda

One becomes good or bad in accordance with God’s will.

— Guru Nanak

The more we have, the less we own.

— Meister Eckhart

A sound head, an honest heart, and an humble spirit are the three best guides through time and to eternity.

— Walter Scott
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