TABLE OF CONTENTS
A.GS1 Related SOCIAL ISSUES 1. Little room for SC/ST scientists in biotech bodies B.GS2 Related HEALTH 1. 20 lakh children to get rotavirus vaccine POLITY AND GOVERNANCE 1. NITI Aayog health index suffers from skew 2. Centre’s J&K playbook goes down to the grassroots INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1. India, Iran discuss release of sailors C.GS3 Related D. GS4 Related E. Editorials ECONOMY 1. Sucking up surplus POLITY 1. The tremor of unwelcome amendments INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1. An ally, a partner and American unilateralism F. Tidbits G. Prelims Facts 1. LHB Coaches 2. Anayoottu 3. Lucknow to host DefExpo next year H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions
A. GS1 Related
A Right To Information query by a researcher has found that Scientists from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are grossly under-represented in scientific institutions funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
The RTI responses show that posts of scientist and technical grade staff (where reservation rules are not mandatory) see only single-digit representation from the reserved categories (excluding the Other Backward Classes category).
- Several of these institutions just about meet the government prescribed criteria for reservation — 15% for SC and 7.5% for ST.
- The Secretary of Department of Biotechnology said that the department was apprised of this problem last year and had taken corrective action.
- A formula is now put in place to ensure that scientists are adequately represented.
- It was emphasised that the recruitment also has to factor available vacancies, backlog, and skills required.
B. GS2 Related
In an initiative to prevent early childhood deaths, around 20 lakh children in Maharashtra will be vaccinated against rotavirus.
- Rotavirus is the leading cause of diarrhoea in children under five years.
- Annually, 3.34 lakh children succumb to diarrhoeal diseases in India, of which close to one lakh die of rotavirus diarrhoea.
- Incidents of dysentery are high among children in Kasara, a tribal-dominated region in the state.
- Rotavirus is a contagious virus that can cause gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines).
- Symptoms include severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain.
- Infants and young children are most likely to get rotavirus disease.
- Nearly every child in the world is infected with rotavirus at least once by the age of five.
- Immunity develops with each infection, so subsequent infections are less severe; adults are rarely affected.
- There are nine species of the genus, referred to as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I.
- Rotavirus A, the most common species, causes more than 90% of rotavirus infections in humans.
The incidence and severity of rotavirus infections could be checked significantly by adding rotavirus vaccine to the routine childhood immunisation policies in the country.
An analysis of the NITI Aayog’s ‘Healthy States, Progressive India’ report shows that the usage of estimated figures in place of reported numbers, to calculate certain health indicators, has adversely impacted the final index score of certain States while boosting that of others.
- Niti Aayog had released the “Healthy States, Progressive India: Report on Rank of States and UTs” in June 2019. It is the second edition of NITI Aayog’s Health Index.
- The report was prepared in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with technical assistance from the World Bank.
- The Index ranks the States and Union Territories based on 23 health-related indicators, including neonatal mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, proportion of low birth weight among new-borns, proportion of districts with functional Cardiac Care Units, full immunisation coverage and proportion of specialist positions vacant at district hospitals.
- The ranking is done under three categories — larger states, smaller states and Union territories (UTs). This ensures comparison among similar entities.
- The use of estimated numbers instead of the reported figures resulted in a skew.
- The report had used an estimated number of births and deliveries to calculate two key health outcome indicators — “full immunisation coverage” and “proportion of institutional deliveries” — which carried high weightage in the calculation of the final index score.
- There is a difference in the number of institutional deliveries recorded in the NITI Aayog’s report based on the estimated number of deliveries, and what is recorded in the Health Management Information System (HMIS), a statistical arm of the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry database based on reported number of deliveries for the year 2015-16. However, the degree of variation is high in certain States.
- In Tamil Nadu, according to the NITI Aayog report, institutional deliveries were pegged at 81.82% in 2015-16, whereas in the HMIS database, it is 100 % — a difference of more than 18% points.
- In Tamil Nadu, 82.66 % of infants were fully immunised, whereas, according to the HMIS database, it is 104.9 %, that is, more than a 22% point difference.
- The health index is an annual systemic tool to assess health outcomes in various states and UTs which they can in turn use to make multi-pronged interventions to improve their performance.
- The Health Index has multiple limitations. Foremost among them is the non-availability of uniform data.
- These indicators are not the most comprehensive reflection of the state of healthcare in a particular state, as they have been chosen on the basis of availability.
- The data sets are also restricted to government entities; private healthcare providers are not included.
- Also, the index does not fully capture critical areas such as infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental health, governance and financial risk protection because there is no acceptable quality data on an annual basis.
- The health index reveals inconsistencies and gaps in data.
- They need to be rectified urgently if India’s only nationwide health survey is to serve any meaningful purpose.
The central government is taking various measures to set up a robust administrative mechanism to check corruption in Kashmir.
- In the ongoing Parliament session, President’s Rule was extended in Jammu and Kashmir by another six months. Though it might seem contradictory, Union Home Minister spoke of devolution of powers and grassroots democracy in the State for which panchayat and urban local body elections were held last year.
- The Centre’s approach seems to be to concentrate on delivery of basic services without the intervention of local worthies and in a rule-based manner; removal of the vast discretionary powers of the political executive (already enshrined in governance reforms in other States); and devolving enough funds to local governments so that, if not creating a completely new political landscape, then at least green shoots of an alternative political discourse will flourish.
- Many of the over 300 decisions taken by the State’s administration in the past year are already part of the governance framework of other States.
- From the Budget Estimation and Management System (BEAMS) for expenditure management and transfer of expenditure allocation; from the planning and development department to finance to elimination of interviews for employment in Class IV category, several reforms have been implemented.
- The state has also got its first Anti-Corruption Bureau, with six new police stations under its remit.
- Income-tax searches and an RBI-led audit on the Jammu and Kashmir Bank and arrests among its top management has shaken the Valley, as it is the main banking entity in the State maintaining commercial relationships with a wide section from the working class to the political elite and even separatists.
- The action on the bank, in particular, is being watched carefully in the State.
- Panchayat elections as an idea for local self-governance and connecting with the local people is not new.
- This time around, the elections will be followed by the flow of ₹2,400 crore in funds from the 14th Finance Commission’s award and an additional ₹900 crore from Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).
India is in discussion with Iran to free at least 30 of its nationals who were on board two foreign-flagged ships detained by Iranian authorities.
- The tension in the Gulf region has been a security factor that Indian authorities have been watching carefully.
- Indian nationals constitute a bulk of the manpower in the international merchant shipping who are expected to face the brunt of the U.S.-Iran tension at the high seas.
- The Stena Impero- a British-owned oil tanker was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard over the weekend in a tit-for-tat after British authorities detained an Iranian vessel Grace 1 near Gibraltar earlier.
- The Indian embassy in Tehran sent an official note urging Iran to release the nationals who were seized.
- The Iranian authorities, however, had assured that the Indian nationals in custody would be treated well. Based on the goodwill which exists between Iran and India, the two countries protect the nationals of the other side, and this is not a matter of concern, Iran had said.
C. GS3 Related
Nothing here for today!!!
D. GS4 Related
Nothing here for today!!!
- As part of the 2019-20 Budget, the Finance Bill has been introduced in the Parliament and the Centre has proposed amendments to the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992.
- These proposed amendments are bound to affect SEBI’s ﬁnancial autonomy and independence.
- To be speciﬁc, the amendments required that after transferring 25% of its surplus cash to its reserve fund in any year, SEBI will have to transfer the remaining 75% to the government i.e. to the consolidated fund of India.
- This decision has been opposed by the SEBI and its officials and employees have written letters to the Finance Ministry enumerating their objections.
- SEBI feels that this decision would impinge upon the financial autonomy of the regulator and it is similar to the complaint raised by the RBI in the past against the Centre regarding its own funds.
- The recent tension between the RBI and the Finance Ministry was also about the transfer of reserve funds to the Centre, and what this implied for the central bank’s autonomy.
- The Centre’s proposal has not gone down well SEBI and its Chairman Ajay Tyagi has written a letter to the Centre stating that its decision to suck out SEBI’s surplus funds will aﬀect its autonomy. Employees of SEBI as well have written to the government with the same concern.
- But despite these objections the Centre is refusing to budge. The government has rejected the plea from SEBI’s oﬃcials asking the government to reconsider its decision and it appears that the stage is set for further conﬂict between the independent regulator and the government.
- Even a basic examination of the proposal suggests that, there seems to be very little rationale in the government’s decision to conﬁscate funds from the chief regulator of markets.
- Because it is highly unlikely that the amount of funds that the government is likely to receive from SEBI will make much of a diﬀerence to the government’s overall ﬁscal situation.
- So the proposed amendment to the SEBI Act seems to be clearly motivated by the desire of the government to increase its control over the regulator rather than by ﬁnancial considerations.
- This argument further gains ground because the recent amendments require SEBI to seek approval from the government to go ahead with its capital expenditure plans.
- A regulatory agency that is at the mercy of the government while running its ﬁnancial and administrative operations cannot be expected to be independent.
- Further, the lack of ﬁnancial autonomy can aﬀect SEBI’s plans to improve the quality of its operations by investing in new technologies and other requirements to upgrade market infrastructure.
- In the long run, this can aﬀect the health of India’s ﬁnancial markets. This would also not be the ﬁrst time that the government has impinged on the autonomy of independent agencies.
- Recently, the Reserve Bank of India and the National Sample Survey Ofﬁce have also come under similar pressure.
- These latest attempts against SEBI adds to the alarming trend of independent agencies being subordinated by the government.
- This could be driven by the belief of the government that it can do a better job of regulating the economy by consolidating all existing powers under the Ministry of Finance.
- But such excessive centralisation of powers in the hands of the government is fraught with great risk to the Indian economy.
- While in fact, independent regulatory agencies such as SEBI should be given complete control over their jurisdiction and assets and be made largely accountable to the Parliament.
- Violating their autonomy and stripping them of their powers by subordinating them under the government ministries will aﬀect their functioning and credibility.
Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)
- It is the regulator for the securities market in India. It was established in 1988 and given statutory powers in 1992 through the SEBI Act, 1992.
- The main function of the SEBI is to protect the interests of investors in securities and to promote the development of the securities market. It also regulates the sector in order to ensure compliance and enforce discipline in the capital markets.
- The functions of SEBI should address the needs of three groups which constitute the market:
- issuers of securities
- market intermediaries
- SEBI has three functions rolled into one body: quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial and quasi-executive.
- It drafts regulations in its legislative capacity, it conducts investigation and enforcement action in its executive function and it passes rulings and orders in its judicial capacity.
- Though this makes it very powerful, there is an appeal process to create accountability and accordingly, a Securities Appellate Tribunal has been established.
- Recently, the centre has introduced a bill in the Parliament Bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act and give the Union government the power to set the service conditions and salaries of Information Commissioners.
- It seeks to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act in order to change the status of the Information Commissioners who are on a par with the Election Commissioners, and states that the term of office, salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions shall be “as prescribed by the Central government”.
- Currently, Section 13(5) of the Act provides that these are equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner for the Chief Information Commissioner and to an Election Commissioner for an Information Commissioner. It also treats the State Information Commissioners on par with the Chief Secretary in the States.
- These powers are designed to ensure that the Information Commissions can function in an independent and effective manner.
- The Bill justifies the amendment by saying that “The functions being carried out by the Election Commission and the Central and State Information Commissions are totally different. The Election Commission of India is a constitutional body whereas, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions are statutory bodies established under the Right to Information Act, 2005”.
- Hence the government argues that the CIC and SIC’s cannot be treated at par with the EC.
- The government has further argued that the bill is aimed at institutionalisation and streamlining of the RTI Act and it is designed to strengthen the overall RTI structure and correct existing anomalies. It has also been described as an enabling legislation for administration purposes.
- However, the opposition parties have expressed concern that the draft law was a threat to the independence of the Central Information Commission as it seeks to eliminate two greater powers of institutional independence.
- Ever since the landmark RTI Act came into eﬀect almost 14 years ago, the community of RTI activists has been haunted by a series of attempts by the government to weaken the act through “amendments”.
- Rarely has a law been so stoutly defended by activists and the civil society. This clearly shows the role of the act in promoting greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government.
- While it is not possible to have a perfect law, the RTI activists have strongly believed that demand for progressive amendments could be used as a smokescreen by the government to bring in regressive changes.
- Amendments have been proposed since 2006, just six months after the law was implemented and many times thereafter. Most of these proposed changes were an attempt to weaken the law and erode the independence of the CIC and SIC’s and its commissioners.
- But protests by activists and a sustained peoples’ campaign, through reasoned protest and popular appeal, have managed to have them withdrawn.
- The latest amendments represent a deliberate attempt at dismantling of this architecture and it empowers the Central government to unilaterally decide on the terms governing the functioning of the Information Commissioners.
RTI as an ‘agent of change’
- In order to understand why there seems to be an unseemly haste and determination on the part of the government to amend the law one needs to look at the fundamental shift that the act has introduced in bringing transparency in governance and keeping in check the arbitrary decision-making powers of the executive.
- It has unilaterally empowered a citizen’s access to power and decision-making structures which in turn can hold the government accountable for its acts of omissions and commissions.
- One should also note that Information Commissioners have consistently ruled in favour of disclosure of information and hence the RTI act represents a direct challenge to the misuse of power.
- The information related to decision-making at the highest level has in most cases eventually been accessed because of the independence and high status of the Information Commission. So this is what the government is trying to amend in order to curb the powers of the CIC and SIC’s.
- The Indian RTI law has been a breakthrough in creating mechanisms and platforms for the practice of continual public vigilance that are fundamental to democratic citizenship.
- An independent Information Commission which is the highest authority on information along with the powers to penalise errant oﬃcials has been a cornerstone of India’s celebrated RTI legislation.
Part of checks and balances:
- Independent structures that are set up to regulate and monitor the government are critical to a democratic state committed to deliver justice and constitutional guarantees.
- The separation of powers is a concept which highlights this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances.
- When power is centralised and the freedom of expression threatened no matter what the context, democracy is deﬁnitely under threat.
- The Commission which is vested by law with status, independence and authority, will now function like a department of the Central government, and be subject to the same hierarchy and demand for obeisance.
- The decision of the government to usurp the powers to set the terms and conditions of service and salaries of an independent body must be understood as an obvious attempt to weaken the independence and authority granted by the law.
- It is apparent that these amendments fundamentally weaken an important part of the RTI architecture.
- They violate the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions, and thereby signiﬁcantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India.
- The RTI has unshackled millions of users who will continue to use this democratic right creatively and to dismantle exclusive power.
- The RTI has been and will be used to withstand attacks on itself and strengthen the movement for transparency and accountability in India.
- Eventually, the government should realise that while it might be able to amend a law, it cannot stop a movement.
- Recently, Turkey struck a deal with Russia to buy its S400 air defence systems and as Russia began shipping the missile system, the US has warned Turkey against the deal.
- In response to the S-400 deal, the United States has decided to terminate Turkey’s participation in the F35 joint strike ﬁghter project and it has threatened to impose economic sanctions on Ankara under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
- Under CAATSA, the US has labelled Russia, Iran and North Korea as adversary states and placed them under primary sanctions in order to stifle their respective economies. This is a direct outcome of the strategic rivalry between the US and these countries.
- Under the same legislation the US has threatened other countries with secondary sanctions if they strike strategic defence deals with the above three countries.
- India’s recent S-400 deal with Russia also faced a similar threat of sanctions from the US and even the current situation facing Turkey has close parallels to the predicament facing India.
- However there are major diﬀerences in the two cases, but there are also remarkable similarities.
Turkey as an ally of the US:
- Turkey has been a longstanding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and an integral part of the Americanled alliance whose principal goal was and continues to be to prevent the expansion of Russian inﬂuence and power.
- It was also seen as the principal gateway for the projection of American power in West Asia, especially in Syria and Iraq, through the Incirlik airbase which serves as an overseas military base for the US.
- The U.S. and other NATO members are worried that a Russian military relationship with Turkey could provide Moscow access to the technological secrets underpinning NATO’s most sophisticated weapon systems.
- Ankara has remained deﬁant and the ﬁrst deliveries of components of the S400 systems arrived in Turkey in early July.
- So the traditional view that Turkey is a close ally of the US and NATO is currently under reconsideration.
Increasing drift between US and Turkey:
- Turkey was in a way pushed by the US to acquire the Russian systems because of its refusal to sell it the Patriot antimissile system that Ankara considered essential for its air defence in the context of the Syrian civil war.
- Turkey’s removal from the F35 project now could also turn out to be counterproductive. Reports suggest that Turkey is planning to buy advanced Sukhoi ﬁghter jets from Russia to compensate for the loss of the F35 planes
- This will further complicate the issue of interoperability with NATO.
- But these tensions between US and Turkey had become increasingly evident over the past couple of years, especially over the support of the US to the Syrian Kurdish force ﬁghting the Islamic State, the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of the secessionist PKK.
How Turkey’s deal compares to India’s S-400 deal:
- The Indian case seems to be quite diﬀerent than the situation being faced by Turkey.
- We need to remember that India has never been a formal ally of Washington despite the U.S. now considering India as a “strategic partner”, mainly because it views New Delhi as a counterweight to expanding Chinese inﬂuence in the AsiaPaciﬁc region.
- From Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, New Delhi has attempted to maintain its strategic autonomy and indeed has had a close defence relationship earlier with the Soviet Union and now with Russia. So Russia continues to be India’s largest arms supplier.
- Therefore, there is little reason for the U.S. to oppose India’s decision to buy the S400 air defence system.
- However, the Trump government seems incapable of understanding these glaring diﬀerences between the two cases.
- In part, this is the result of the fact that in 2017, the U.S. Congress passed CAATSA that makes it mandatory that the U.S. impose economic sanctions on countries engaging in signiﬁcant business transactions with the Russian defence sector.
- India’s purchase of the S400 falls squarely within this deﬁnition. The threat of CAATSA sanctions comes at a very inopportune time for India as it has been considering major multibillion dollar arms acquisition deals with the U.S.
- The U.S. is also India’s largest trading partner and is intimately engaged in India’s civil nuclear programme.
- While there is a provision for waivers in the CAATSA legislation, these are not automatic and are tied principally to Russian behaviour and therefore almost impossible to implement.
- The whole aﬀair leaves India in a strategic dilemma. It cannot go back on the S400 deal, which was signed in 2018 without alienating its largest and most reliable defence supplier. On the other hand, going ahead with the deal is likely to invite American economic sanctions and disrupt India’s developing strategic relationship with the U.S.
- On its part, the U.S. is caught in the middle because it cannot give an exemption to India while imposing sanctions against its NATO ally Turkey for the same offence.
- The root of the problem lies in America’s twin proclivities of acting unilaterally without regard to the interests of its international interlocutors and of enforcing provisions of pieces of its domestic legislation on foreign countries that have no say in the drafting of these laws and little recourse to appeals against them.
- It has done so in the case of sanctioning countries, including India and Turkey, importing Iranian oil regardless of their dependence on this source of supply or their traditional relations with Iran.
- Such unilateralism seems to have become an integral part of the current American administration’s DNA.
Nothing here for today!!!
G. Prelims Facts
1. LHB Coaches
- Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches are the passenger coaches of Indian Railways that have been developed by Linke-Hofmann-Busch of Germany and mostly produced by Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala, India.
- To better the safety standards in rail travel, Indian Railways has decided to use LHB design coaches and stop production of the old Integral Coach Factory (ICF) design coaches.
- As compared to ICF design coaches, the LHB design coaches are lighter in weight. Not only that, they also have higher carrying capacity as well as higher speed potential. Also, other than these features, the LHB design coaches have increased codal life and better safety features
- They are considered to be “anti-telescopic”, which means they do not get turned over or flip in case of a collision.
- Each coach also has an advanced pneumatic disc brake system for efficient braking at higher speeds.
- The Aanayoottu (feeding of elephants) is a festival held in the precincts of the Vadakkunnathan temple in City of Thrissur, in Kerala.
- The festival falls on the first day of the month of Karkkidakam (timed against the Malayalam calendar), which coincides with the month of July.
- It involves a number of unadorned elephants being positioned amid a multitude of people for being worshipped and fed.
- A large number of people throng the temple to feed the elephants.
- The special feed of the elephants includes sugar-cane leaves, coconut, jaggery and the sweet mix of Ganapthi pooja prasadam.
- It is believed that offering poojas and delicious feed to the elephants is a way to satisfy Lord Ganesha—the god of wealth and of the fulfillment of wishes.
- The Vadakkunnathan temple, which is considered to be one of the oldest Shiva temples in southern India, has hosted the Aanayottoo event for the past few years.
- The elephants are hailed as sacred animals (a fact which explains the presence of elephants in the South Indian temples).
- Elephants are an integral part of Kerala culture, and elephants are integral to all festivals, including the Aanayoottu.
- Many of the famous south Indian temples have a number of their own elephants; feeding these elephants is considered as auspicious.
- The 11th biennial edition of DefExpo will be hosted by Lucknow.
- “India: the emerging defence manufacturing hub” will be the main theme of DefExpo India-2020.
- Focus will be on “Digital transformation of defence”.
- Uttar Pradesh has a strong defence industrial infrastructure. It has four units of the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd at Lucknow, Kanpur, Korwa and Naini (Prayagraj), nine ordnance factory units and one production facility of defence public sector undertaking Bharat Electronics Limited at Ghaziabad.
- One of the two Defence Industrial Corridors (DICs) of India is also planned in Uttar Pradesh. The other DIC is proposed in Tamil Nadu.
- The exhibition will also highlight Uttar Pradesh as an attractive destination for investment in the defence sector and act as a platform for joint ventures in the industry.
- It offers an excellent opportunity for the Indian defence industry to showcase its capabilities and promote its export potential.
- The previous two editions of the biennial were held in Chennai and Goa.
H. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam
Q1. Consider the following statements with respect to Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL):
- It was established by the Ministry of Ayush in collaboration with Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).
- The TKDL contains documentation of publicly available traditional knowledge that relates to Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga in digitized format.
Which of the given statement/s is/are correct?
a. 1 only
b. 2 only
c. Both 1 and 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2
Q2. Consider the following statements:
- A hope spot is an area of the desert that needs special protection because of its wildlife and significant habitats.
- Two places in India have made it to the list of global hope spots.
Which of the given statement/s is/are correct?
a. 1 only
b. 2 only
c. Both 1 and 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2
Q3. Consider the following statements:
- Serious Fraud Investigation Office is a multi-disciplinary organization for detecting and prosecuting white-collar crimes/frauds.
- It functions under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
- It is a statutory body.
Which of the given statement/s is/are incorrect?
a. 1 only
b. 3 only
c. 1 and 2 only
d. None of the above
Q4. Consider the following statements:
- International Finance Corporation (IFC) is not a member of the World Bank Group.
- The IFC is owned and governed by its member countries.
Which of the given statement/s is/are correct?
a. 1 only
b. 2 only
c. Both 1 and 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2
I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions
- Discuss the various factors contributing to the Geopolitical Significance of the Indian Ocean Region. What are the challenges faced by India owing to the intense activities of China in the region? (15 Marks, 250 Words)
- Introduction of a two-child norm in India as mentioned in the Population Regulation Bill will prove to be ineffective and will lead to undesirable outcomes. Critically Analyse. (15 Marks, 250 Words)
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