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Perspective | Oped | Reflections

PERSPECTIVE

ON RECORD
Continue more price support to wheat & rice, says Swaminathan
by Gaurav Choudhury
P
rof M.S. Swaminathan needs no introduction. He has been recognised as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century (by Time magazine), one of the only three from India (the other two being Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore). 

Controversy over history writing: Time for a consensual approach
by Syed Nooruzzaman
V
ery few students read history after completing their school education. And fewer opt for history as a subject at the undergraduate level and beyond. But they cannot escape studying this subject till the matriculation stage. 



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
OPED

PROFILE
Green Oscar: Befitting award for Rathore
by Harihar Swarup
F
ew have heard the name of Goverdhan Rathore and fewer know the outstanding work he has done in providing greener alternative to firewood in the form of biogas. So prominent were Rathore’s services that he won “Green Oscar” award and a cash of 30,000 pounds for providing a cleaner and greener alternative to firewood around the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.

Reflections
Prayer promotes ties and spreads harmony
by Kiran Bedi
I
heard over the radio the other day of “faith” as a management tool being used in corporate offices here in America. It alerted me instantly for it rang a familiar bell. I heard it with greater attention. The announcer narrated how the employees were starting the day with a prayer. 

Diversities — Delhi Letter
Lalit Kala Akademi to honour Mulk Raj
by Humra Quraishi
M
ulk Raj Anand turns 99 years old and Lalit Kala Akademi turns 50 years old, later this year. Not sure whether the twain shall meet, in the sense that though Lalit Kala Akademi is holding a major event here on August 9 to honour Anand, one is not sure whether he would be able to make it. 

  • Festival of Asian Cinema

  • French National Day reception

  • Focus on sex education

Kashmir Diary
Steady marginalisation of the Islamist dimension
by David Devadas
L
ast week brought me a little more insight into how little most of us understand about Kashmiri aspirations. When we heard of the lethal attack against the state’s Deputy Chief Minister on July 13, few of us bothered to analyse why he, who hails from Jammu, should have been targeted.



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ON RECORD
Continue more price support to wheat & rice, says Swaminathan
by Gaurav Choudhury

Prof M. S. SwaminathanProf M.S. Swaminathan needs no introduction. He has been recognised as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century (by Time magazine), one of the only three from India (the other two being Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore). The United Nations Environment Programme has described him as the "Father of Economic Ecology". In India, of course, he is known as the "Father of Green Revolution". A plant geneticist by training, Prof Swaminathan was the man behind making India a net food exporter from that of a net importer. Recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1971, the World Food Prize in 1971, Prof Swaminathan spoke to The Sunday Tribune on a variety of subjects. Excerpts:

Q: Even after five decades of planning, the terms of trade continue to remain against agriculture in India. Why?

A: Presently, some terms of trade are favourable and some are not favourable towards agriculture. Many people would say that the government’s support price for rice and wheat in Punjab and Haryana are larger than the open market price, and that is why, they say, all of the wheat produce is sold to the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Through the support price, we have a system, where, in a way, we are increasing the resource flow to villages by giving them an attractive price. But many other conscious steps will have to be taken commodity by commodity. Next year the cotton agreement is coming to an end. We have to be pro-active here. What is now necessary is the kind of support farmers need. Let us not worry about industry. I always say that farming is 10,000-year-old largest private sector enterprise. Therefore, we should develop policies which are important for that sector.

Q: The strand of thought about restructuring the existing minimum support price (MSP) mechanism is gaining currency, with even this year’s Economic Survey putting forward a similar argument. The logic, it is said, is that the MSP as it exists today is loaded very heavily in favour of only two cereals — rice and wheat. What are your comments?

A: Rice and wheat are the most important components of the public distribution system (PDS). It is the backbone of the food security system. Local grains like bajra, jowar and various millets are also important. This is why if you see the common minimum programme (CMP), there is also a commitment to start what is called a community food bank or grain bank. The idea is, if in Karnataka, people like more rabi, you buy them and build up a stock — a community grain bank. The bottom line of our support price policy must be food security of the country.

Our national sovereignty also depends on food security. With over one billion people, we cannot afford to import. It is not that the government is not announcing support prices for other crops. I remember in 1978 when I was in the government, we had propagated the sowing of soyabean. But the farmers had problems, especially in Madhya Pradesh. So we consciously procured it from the farmers to boost their confidence. Otherwise, they would not have sowed soyabean in the next season.

I would say more importance is given to wheat and rice in the support price mechanism because they are most important in terms of food security and fed to the entire country through the PDS.

Q: What is the optimum level of buffer stock required in India, given its current population? The Kirit Parikh Committee projected 10 million tonnes.

A: One has to calculate it on the basis of the offtake of the public distribution system. For example, in a year of drought, one has to see what is the offtake from the PDS. Is it one million tonnes a month or two million tonnes a month and then have a reasonable stock. So there are methods of calculating the buffer stock. But for India’s size, about 20 million tonnes should be maintained by us. Once we enter the world market, the prices go up. If we have to import one million tonnes of foodgrains, prices will go up. So on the basis of principles of price stability and food security, we should maintain about 20 million tonnes.

There are two kinds of stock. Buffer stock and operational stock. If the PDS is made more universal, as mentioned in the CMP, the offtake will be quite high.

Q: Don’t you think the absence of a robust price support mechanism is disincentivising diversification in agriculture?

A: That is a problem, particularly in perishable commodities such as foods, flowers and vegetables. The idea essentially is to provide post-harvest infrastructure — cold storages and other similar facilities. Farmers will produce more if we can consume more. Punjab and Haryana have shown that they can produce rice and wheat, because there is a ready market for it. For example, our potato output has gone up considerably ever since the post-harvest infrastructure was developed. Finally, it is the remunerative market which holds the key to land use decision of farmers.

Q: How would contract farming help in this respect?

A: Contract farming is different from corporate farming. It does not involve buying away the land from farmers. Pepsi did in Punjab. ITC is doing it for tobacco. Corporate sector and the small and marginal farmer can live in symbiotic harmony. One produces and the other uses it. I do not recommend corporatisation of farming as I would not like to see more landless labourers in the country.

Q: The government has also been talking about ushering in a second green revolution. What needs to be done in this regard?

A: The government has been calling it the second green revolution. I have been calling it the ever-green revolution. Green revolution is another term of improving production through productivity increase. Not by area expansion, but by vertical growth in productivity. But we must do it without ecological harm. The ever-green revolution means increase in productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm. The smaller the farm, the greater the need for marketable surplus.

Q: There have been a spate of suicides by farmers in various states. What would you attribute this phenomenon to?

A: Many studies have been done on these suicides. Many have attributed it to credit and indebtedness. Today, farmers need four important life support services — water (irrigation), technology, credit and market. I would put credit first, because without credit, one cannot buy seeds. If these four are there, the farmers will do the rest. Suicides should be viewed very seriously and reasons should be examined separately. This is either because of accumulated debt or the failure of the institutional credit system. There is a problem and a solution. In Andhra Pradesh, most of them had taken money from private money lenders. Therefore credit and insurance must receive top priority. 
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Controversy over history writing: Time for a consensual approach
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Very few students read history after completing their school education. And fewer opt for history as a subject at the undergraduate level and beyond. But they cannot escape studying this subject till the matriculation stage. This is the period when their mind must be prevented from getting poisoned.

This explains the controversy over the teaching of history going on since 2002 when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi was the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister.

The books rewritten by the scholars of his choice are being withdrawn, though not immediately, following the recommendation of a committee of experts appointed by the new HRD Minister, Mr Arjun Singh. The experts are of the view that the books are full of “errors and biases” and, therefore, should not be allowed to be used as a textbook in schools.

Since the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) will take some time to produce new volumes, efforts were made for finding books in the market conforming to the prescribed syllabus. However, the search has now been given up because of some practical problems. The old arrangement will continue for the on-going session.

The NCERT will come out with a set of new books before the commencement of the next academic session. There can be no alterations in the books written during Dr Joshi’s tenure because the law is against such an exercise.

This means rewriting of history books again. It is not a happy situation even if the programme is purely in the national interest.

No one questions the credentials of any of the three members of the committee appointed for studying the controversial books. These historians — Mr I. S. Grewal, former Director of the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Mr S. Settar, former Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, and Mr Barun De, founder-Director of the Maulana Abul Kalam Institute for Asian Studies — are known for their ideological impartiality.

Yet their efforts raise a question: will it be the end of rewriting of history books? Will the controversy disappear forever?

The way those associated with the task of producing the NCERT volumes during Dr Joshi’s tenure and their supporters have reacted indicates that all that the present government is doing may be undone once a BJP-led government is there at the Centre again.

Obviously, any rewriting project should be undertaken only when a mechanism is found to bury the controversy forever. Otherwise the controversy can lead to a major social tension if some politicians decide to make political capital out of it.

History is a sensitive subject and should be handled with utmost care. It is prone to be interpreted differently. If it can be a source of tension, it can also be used as an effective instrument for promoting social harmony, national integration and secularism.

That is why Nehru, the visionary Prime Minister of India, opposed the involvement of private enterprise in history writing if the books were meant for schools.

Allowing private publishers to do what the government-controlled NCERT had been doing would have led to a plethora of books on history for schoolchildren, some from communally biased authors and publishers, creating confusion in the country.

The problem that has arisen today is because history has been given two colours — red and saffron. Those representing the saffron camp have been asserting that much of what was being taught in schools before Dr Murli Manohar Joshi decided to intervene had the stamp of the red (communist) camp. In their opinion, this did not present the “true picture”, or the picture that suited cultural nationalism. Hence the revision in 2002-03.

Among the changes that were introduced was the view that the Aryans did not come from Central Asia, contrary to what was there in the earlier books, first published after the vetting of manuscripts by a committee headed by no less a scholar that Sarvepalli S. Gopal in the 1960s.

The new books had it that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of the land called India, and the Indus civilization was nothing but Sarswati civilization.

The most controversial part of the debate relates to Mughal India. The interpretation now sought to be removed from the history textbooks divides the various religious communities of the country into two broad groups — indigenous and former aliens. One does not require great intelligence to understand who will be in which category.

This theory does not find acceptance among the historians other than those in the saffron camp. Such categorizations defy logic. Who does not know that all Indians, irrespective of their religious persuasions, have a similar past? Why emphasise things that weaken the country’s social fabric? There are better things to tell the school children, the nation's future. The country gains nothing by divisive interpretations.

Moreover, it is not necessary to highlight all that happened in the past when the audience is composed of school children. National integrity and social peace must be the overriding factors. This is a challenging task for any government.

The historians engaged in finding a replacement for the controversial books stated that textbook writing should not reflect the views of any individual but the collective wisdom of a group of scholars.

In other words, the country should adopt a consensual approach in the matter, which suits the mosaic called India. 
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PROFILE
Green Oscar: Befitting award for Rathore
by Harihar Swarup

Few have heard the name of Goverdhan Rathore and fewer know the outstanding work he has done in providing greener alternative to firewood in the form of biogas. So prominent were Rathore’s services that he won “Green Oscar” award and a cash of 30,000 pounds for providing a cleaner and greener alternative to firewood around the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.

The citation describes Rathore’s project as “exemplary in that it is both helping lift the rural villagers out of poverty and ill-health and giving them stake in the survival of the tiger by reducing their dependence on fuel wood from the reserve”.

The Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, UK, better known as “Green Oscar Awards”, now in the fourth year, reward inspirational and innovative renewable energy projects which provide social and economical benefits to local communities and contribute towards protecting the environment by curbing deforestation and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, thereby, helping tackle climate change.

With the human population around Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve growing at a staggering rate of over 3.2 per cent each year, the demand for fuel wood is no longer sustainable. Rathore risked his life to protect their habitat. He founded the “Prakritik” (natural) society, with the aim of helping local people find an alternative means of survival. He has often been quoted as saying: “I could see that this park versus people conflict would ultimately result in the destruction of both the tiger and Ranthambhore. I knew the long-term solution lay in finding a way in which both the people and park could live in harmony. This means creating sustainable alternatives that could both improve the life of the local people and allow them to have a symbolic relationship with the park and its tigers”.

The answer came in the form of bio-gas digesters that provide gas for cooking to villagers around the park and so ease the pressure on the dwindling forest resources. Prakritik society, under the inspiring leadership of Rathore, has so far installed 225 biogas plants using cow dung as the fuel. Over 1,350 villagers are currently deriving benefit from this technology.

This is also helping villagers in ways such as improving the health of women and children by reducing indoor air pollution, saving the time and energy otherwise spent in collecting fuel wood and reducing dependence on chemical fertiliser. It is estimated that 1,500 metric tonnes of fuel wood is saved by the use of the installed biogas digesters which, in turn, help save an entire habitat including rare tigers and an extremely fragile biosphere. This is a model that can be replicated in other areas where protected forests are under pressure by communities for survival.

Prakritik society offers three valuable means to improve the quality of the lives of the people of the area. It provides artificial insemination programme to improve the cattle breed, plants trees under the agro-forestry scheme to enable people become self-reliant in fuel wood requirement and sets up biogas units for the entire joint family, providing light and energy. With the construction of biogas plants, men need not go in search of wood. And women no longer have to be suffocated by endless smoke. Improvement of cattle breed through the artificial insemination centre has resulted in the increase in milk production by ten fold. Dependence on the Tiger Reserve has reduced.

Rathore has grown up in the shadow of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. His father, Fateh Singh Rathore, was the celebrated Director of the National Park. The son is acquainted with every inch of the Park in addition to the hardship faced by the people. Goverdhan Rathore founded Prakritik society in 1994 and worked with a missionary zeal. He also holds a doctorate degree. He proposes to use the award money to expand the energy programme to all the villages around the park by setting up 150 biogas units and developing a wood-for-wood programme motivating people to plant trees to meet their fuel needs instead of relying on forest resources.
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Reflections
Prayer promotes ties and spreads harmony
by Kiran Bedi

I heard over the radio the other day of “faith” as a management tool being used in corporate offices here in America. It alerted me instantly for it rang a familiar bell. I heard it with greater attention. The announcer narrated how the employees were starting the day with a prayer. And how they were receiving value-based messages for the day and being made to discuss the meaning of these in groups. And how one of the persons almost penniless, went on to become a millionaire ever since he brought these practices to the work place.

I recalled way back in 1993 my first day in the prison work in Delhi. As I entered the prison for the first time, on my very first day of duty, the prisoners were generally very apprehensive! How was I going to deal with them? Will I be very punishing? Will I be revengeful with those involved in crimes against women? All kinds of messages were doing the rounds. The prison staff too had engineered some!

But as I stepped in something different happened. A different kind of feeling overtook me. I went up to the large group of prisoners waiting to go for court appearance. As I approached them they retreated. The staff too tried to drive them away for they thought these prisoners might be a security risk for me. But I told them to let them be. I wanted to reach out to them.

But what do I say? What do I begin with? Do I say, “How are you”? For how would they be inside a prison? It would be most improper to begin that way! But as I saw them in the eye, something so naturally surfaced from within me... I asked them, “Do you pray”? They did not reply. I again asked them, “Do you pray”? They again chose to remain silent. Perhaps, they did not believe, that an Inspector-General and that too, a woman face to face with them, was asking a simple question which was so personal.

When they still were hesitant I firmly asked, “Do you pray”? I started to get some nods while others were looking at others from the corner of their eyes to see what to do? I then asked them, “Would you pray with me”? They again were dumb founded. I moved up and said, “Come let’s sing, “Aye Malik Tere Bande Hum, Aise Ho Hamare Karam”. I saw them joining hands and closing their eyes. And we all sang.

I too closed my eyes and sang with my heart and soul in it. I opened my eyes and saw a peaceful expression replace the blank and anxious glances. Some even had a smile. This was the “power of the prayer” breaking all barriers with a group of difficult men who probably had violated other’s peace and themselves starved of peace, as I got to realise soon enough. But the fact of the matter is that this was the most natural and the purest way to break any communication barrier with a class of men and women for whom there existed no sympathy at all. And who needed a deep introspection for a (voluntary) change if it was to be lasting.

And the continuity of practice worked...It then led the prison system to be riot free, drugs reduced, cigarette smoking come down, internal fights nearly disappearing even when the prison population was over 9,700 inmates and the education programmes come in, supported by many spiritual courses from scores of volunteers and organisations. Most notable being the Vipassana meditation programme of over a thousand prisoners. It all started with the first question: Do you pray?

Such a therapy will work anywhere. Prayer is cleanser. It is also a binder. It builds relationships. It spreads harmony. It builds teams. It invokes love. And any work place where there is harmony, cooperation, and team spirit, there will be peace and joy. And wherever there is joy there will be productivity and prosperity. Try it at work place. Try it at home. Try it within ones ownself. And then live it. Each day!
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Diversities — Delhi Letter
Lalit Kala Akademi to honour Mulk Raj
by Humra Quraishi

Mulk Raj Anand Mulk Raj Anand turns 99 years old and Lalit Kala Akademi turns 50 years old, later this year.

Not sure whether the twain shall meet, in the sense that though Lalit Kala Akademi is holding a major event here on August 9 to honour Anand, one is not sure whether he would be able to make it. He has to come all the way from Khandala where he now resides.

In fact, his adopted son Kewal told me that before the year ends, there would be an international seminar together with a book on Mulk Raj Anand’s writings. It’s rather unfortunate that Anand could not complete his seven-volume autobiography.

If I'm not mistaken, he had completed just about five volumes when his publisher Gulab Vazirani died suddenly and with that the project just about drifted.

Festival of Asian Cinema

On July 16 evening, whilst I was keying these lines, the festival of Asian Cinema was inaugurated at Siri Fort by Delhi Chief minister Sheila Dikshit, with the opening film, “Head On” (directed by Fatih Akin, this film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year).

In this 10-day-long film festival, 90 films from 30 countries will be screened in four select venues — India International Centre, India Habitat Centre, French Cultural Centre and Siri Fort.

The person behind all this effort is Aruna Vasudev. This year the special focus has been on Arab cinema. Little wonder that this week-end, the Arab ambassadors posted in New Delhi are hosting a reception-cum-dinner in honour of delegates and participants in this film festival.

French National Day reception

Queue all the way. July 14 was a hot sultry day. On top of all this, there was the ongoing rush of invitees, waiting to get into the French Embassy for the French National Day celebrations.

There was actually a long queue of well dressed people which we don't otherwise get to see. For in that typical mindset of ours, queues are associated with ration shops, free mid-day meals or at those hospital OPDs, but not for receptions.

And then, once inside that impressive hall of the embassy, the queued up invitees had to quench their thirst. Gulping down loads and loads of the choicest wine. It was embarrassing to see so many of our so-called who's who asking for more of the red and white varieties.

I have half a mind to suggest to Union Tourism Minister Renuka Chaudhury to host a wine festival so that our urge gets somewhat subdued.

Focus on sex education

After going through UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s rather detailed and elaborate address to the XV International AIDS conference held in Bangkok, the facts and figures seem scary.

I quote from the address: “It is also appropriate that this conference is being held in Asia where the virus rate is spreading at an alarming rate. One in four infections last year happened on this continent”.
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Kashmir Diary
Steady marginalisation of the Islamist dimension
by David Devadas

Last week brought me a little more insight into how little most of us understand about Kashmiri aspirations. When we heard of the lethal attack against the state’s Deputy Chief Minister on July 13, few of us bothered to analyse why he, who hails from Jammu, should have been targeted.

July 13 is observed in Kashmir as Martyrs’ Day and understanding its origin and significance is key to understanding Kashmiri aspirations. Only a minority of ethnic Kashmiris has ever wanted the area to become part of Pakistan, and the proportion of such Kashmiris has dwindled over the past decade of violence. The valley’s aspiration for independence, on the other hand, has deep roots. In fact, it predates the independence of India and Pakistan from British rule by at least 16 years.

It was on July 13, 1931, that Kashmir first exploded en masse in revolt against the Dogra regime. The violence continued for a time and it took a period of brutal martial law to bring the place back under control. About 32 people were killed in police firing on July 13 and several others in Srinagar, Shopian and Anantnag later.

It was during that revolt that Sheikh Abdullah shot like a meteor to his position as the mass leader of the Kashmiri people. Indeed, R.K. Takkar, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary (who later became head of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), goes so far as to describe Sheikh Abdullah as combining for Kashmiris what Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru together are for most people across India.

There were several reasons for the 1931 revolt. One was economic. The long-standing resentment over the stranglehold that Pandits had for centuries held over jobs and over the wholesale trade in carpets, shawls and other embroidered goods came to a head that year. Half-a-dozen Kashmiri Muslims, Sheikh Abdullah among them, had returned the previous autumn with degrees from Aligarh Muslim University. It was an extraordinary number at that time, for Kashmiri Muslims were generally illiterate, even impoverished. These young men sought respectable jobs, but these were difficult to come by.

Abdullah, for example, was most upset when a Pandit called R.K. Zutshi, who had returned like him with an M Sc in Chemistry — but from Benaras Hindu University rather than Aligarh — was employed by the regime at Sri Pratap College, while Abdullah had to settle for a temporary schoolmaster’s job at the Islamia school — the one, incidentally, that militants burnt last weekend.

The immediate cause for the 1931 rebellion, however, was explicitly religious. Overzealous police officers interfered with Id prayers near Jammu and at the Jammu police lines, an innocuous incident was exaggerated. It appeared as if Hindus had desecrated the Quran. That lit the fuse for Kashmir’s revolt.

The ambivalence over whether Kashmir’s rebellion was basically an ethnic assertion against a ruler from beyond its mountain walls or an eruption of Islamic fervour continued when this round of violence began 15 years ago. An economic dimension too was apparent in the series of strikes in the summer of 1988 and in the general anger against malfunctioning services.

Over these years, the Islamist dimension has been marginalised. Today, only the foreigners at the forefront of militancy hold to it with gusto, and even the Kashmir chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami has sidelined its firebrand leader, Ali Shah Geelani. Economics too has ceased to be a driving force, as the state government has stepped up development. Indeed, the ministers were going on July 13 to inaugurate Kashmir's first flyover — which has caused great satisfaction among common people here.

However, the resentment against Jammu remains at an almost primordial level. It was inherent in Mufti Mohd. Sayeed’s insistence after his party emerged as the third largest in the current Assembly that only a leader from the valley could be acceptable as Chief Minister. And the Jammu factor was clearly an element in the choice of the Deputy Chief Minister as the target of the attack.

Those who are working on a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio must keep in mind that, while working out an arrangement with Pakistan over the Line of Control is alright, the valley-based Kashmiris’ long-standing insecurity with regard to others, particularly Jammu, must also be addressed.Top

 

Man becomes good in good company; pursues virtues and cleans himself of his vices.

— Guru Nanak

The name of Christ — the one great word — well worth all languages in earth or heaven.

— Bailey

Spiritual practice means to keep the mind steady at His lotus feet and to be absorbed in His thoughts.

— Sarada Devi

Things are not bettered, but we are bettered, by making changes in them.

— Swami Vivekananda

Vedanta enables the Vedantin (man who has digested Vedanta) to live a cheerful and blissful life in the din and roar of the market place.

— Swami A. Parthasarathy
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