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GS:1


Society and women related issues:

‘Child marriages decline in India’(The Hindu)

Context:

According to UNICEF India has seen a sharp decline in child marriages over the last ten years with 27% of girls getting married before their 18th birthday as against 47%, a decade ago

Details:

  • The decline in child marriage in India has contributed significantly to a global decline in child marriages.
  • Overall, the proportion of girls who were married as children has decreased by 15% in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5.
  • Twenty-five million child marriages were prevented globally in the last 10 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)
  • South Asia has seen the largest decline with India being at the forefront.

GS: 2


International relations:

Sri Lanka declares state of emergency for 10 days after anti-Muslim attacks in Kandy(The Hindu)

Context:

On 6th March, 2018, Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency for 10 days, to curb heightening violence targeting the island’s Muslim minority.

What has happened?

  • Riots were triggered by the death of a 41-year-old man from the majority Sinhalese community after he was beaten up by a mob, reportedly Muslims, following a road rage incident.
  • After the incident, anti-Muslim attacks had taken place in Kandy, located in Sri Lanka’s Central Province.
  • Several mosques, shops and homes were set to fire and destroyed over the last few days
  • This had prompted the police to impose a curfew in the town since the afternoon of 6th March

Government Response:

The government decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots

Make the neighbourhood first again(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • In the present time, India’s connect with its South Asian neighbours is weaker than it has been for a very long time.

What are the reasons for which India’s present state of relation with its South Asian neighbors is weaker than it has been?

SAARC not in ideal terms with India:

  • The first problem is that for various reasons, other governments in the SAARC region are either not on ideal terms with India, or facing political turbulence.
  • For example: In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone out of his way to challenge the India, whether it is on his crackdown on the opposition, invitations to China, or even breaking with India’s effort to isolate Pakistan at SAARC.
  • In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is certainly not India’s first choice.
  • In other parts of the neighbourhood, where relations have been comparatively better for the past few years, upcoming elections could turn the tables on India.

China’s unprecedented attacks:

  • The next problem is the impact of China’s unprecedented attacks into each of these countries.
  • For example: Instead of telling the Nepal government to sort out issues with India, as it had in the past, China opened up an array of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade: from the highway to Lhasa, cross-border railway lines to the development of dry ports.

India’s hard power tactics in the neighborhood:

  • The third issue is that the Modi government’s decision to use hard power tactics in the neighbourhood has had a boomerang effect.
  • For example: The “surgical strikes” on Pakistan of 2016 have been followed by a greater number of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration on the Line of Control.
  • While many of these factors are hard to reverse, the fundamental facts of geography and shared cultures in South Asia are also undeniable, and India must focus its efforts to return to a more comfortable peace, and to “Making the Neighbourhood First Again”.

What are the measures to be taken to renew the relationship with its South Asian neighbors?

  • Firstly, India’s most potent tool is its soft power.
  • For example, its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan, have much more to do with its development assistance than its defence assistance.
  • Also, after the Doklam crisis was defused in 2017, India also moved swiftly to resolve differences with Bhutan on hydropower pricing.
  • Secondly, instead of opposing every project by China in the region, the government must attempt a three-pronged approach.
  • (a) Wherever possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor.
  • (b) Whenever it feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
  • (c) India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention, while formulating a set of South Asian principles for sustainable development assistance that can be used across the region.
  • It is possible if India and China reset bilateral ties, which have seen a marked slide over the past few years.
  • Thirdly, it will also be impossible to renew the compact with the neighbours without reviving the SAARC process.
  • Fourthly, it is suggested that leaders of SAARC countries should meet more often informally, they should interfere less in the internal workings of each other’s governments, and there should be more interaction at every level of government.
  • Fifthly, just as Indonesia, the biggest economy in the ASEAN, allowed smaller countries such as Singapore to take the lead, India too must take a back seat in decision-making, enabling others to build a more harmonious SAARC process.

Populist wave: on the Italian elections(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

As Italians reject the mainstream parties, EU integration could take a hit

What has happened?

  • In the recently held national elections, Italians have supported populist parties that were once considered fringe
  • The most likely result of the national election seemed either a win by the centre-right coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister
  • It can also be a hung parliament in which populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the xenophobic Northern League would have considerable influence in the creation of a new government.
  • The ruling centre-left Democratic party has already admitted defeat after coming in third. The party has managed just 19% of the vote.
  • The largest vote share (32%) to a single party has gone to the Five Star Movement (M5S).
  • The centre-right coalition, which includes the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-migrant and Eurosceptic Lega and the far right Brothers of Italy, has secured 36%

What inferences can be drawn from the Elections?

  • The election was a strong rejection of the incumbent, centre-left Democratic Party (PD)
  • There is a strong anti-establishment undercurrent, with the largest vote share to a single party going to the Five Star Movement (M5S)
  • Given the recent changes in Italian electoral law, which now combines proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system, a party or coalition will need at least 40% of the vote to form the government. Therefore, it is unclear who would become the next Prime Minister of Italy

Impact on the integration of EU

  • Italy is going through a protracted period of political negotiations before a new government can start.
  • The M5S, which had initially said it would hold a referendum on the euro, more recently toned down its stance. However, it continues to seek greater economic freedom from Brussels.
  • It has taken a strong stance against migration and says it wants to improve governance.
  • Luigi Di Maio, a leader of the M5S, who for long had said the party would go it alone, is now seeking partners to form a government.
  • This could, for instance, mean the M5S partnering with the PD or the Lega.
  • Barring a shared Euroscepticism, the M5S and the Lega mostly differ in their values.
  • An M5S-Lega government would severely hamper France and Germany’s plans for greater integration across the EU.

‘Emergency will improve security’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The emergency imposed in Sri Lanka is the first time in seven years that the country has resorted to such a measure.

Background:

  • 1915: The tension between the majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims, who currently account for nearly 9% of the country’s population, has a long history.
  • The first major incident of riots in Sri Lanka was in 1915, targeting Muslims.
  • 1990: During the country’s civil war years, Muslims suffered violence and displacement when the Liberation Tiger Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forcefully evicted them from the north in the early 1990s.
  • 2012-2017: Eventually, Sri Lanka has witnessed several attacks against Muslims since 2012, including two major clashes in the southern towns of Aluthgama and Gintota in 2014 and 2017 respectively.

Reason for recent emergency imposed in Sri Lanka:

  • A number of mosques and Muslim-run establishments were attacked by Sinhalese mobs in central district.
  • The death of a 27 year old man who was trapped inside a burning house and who described the attack on the building in an audio recording could have provoke violence across the country.

Implementation of the emergency:

  • The current emergency measures give authorities sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods, and deploy forces where needed.
  • The measures would redress the unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country.
  • The police and armed forces have been suitably empowered to deal with criminal elements in the society and urgently restore normalcy.

Conclusion:

  • The fundamental belief that one must indulge to the extremists within the majority community must change.
  • Until then other communities that are numerically inferior will never feel like equal citizens.

‘Fix or nix’ Iran deal, Netanyahu tells Trump(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The singular focus of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s five-day tour of the United States has been Iran.

More in news:

  • U.S has a deadline till May to decide whether to impose nuclear sanctions on Iran again.
  • If he chooses to impose sanctions, the deal will collapse.
  • U.S also underscored its goal of countering Iran’s malign influence.
  • Moreover, the President emphasized his commitment in achieving a lasting peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Iran as a major challenge:

  • The greatest challenge for the Middle East is Iran.
  • Because, Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions.
  • It came out of this nuclear deal emboldened, enriched and has been practicing aggression everywhere.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

It is time to have a debate on proportional representation, says ex-CEC S.Y. Quraishi(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Various electoral reforms are currently being debated, from improving transparency in party funding to holding simultaneous elections.

Electoral bonds:

  •   Electoral bonds, as announced by the Union Finance Minister, hold the promise of making political funding transparent, which has been a long-standing demand of the Election Commission (EC).

Benefit of electoral bonds:

  • Cash transactions will not happen as people will have to buy bonds through the bank.

Why electoral bonds are significant?

  • Without transparency in political funding, free and fair elections.
  • The government has decided to give precedence to the donors’ wish to be anonymous.
  • There was a CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) report of 2015 which said that donors want anonymity for two reasons:

1-      other parties would make a beeline for their donations, and

2-      Fear of political reprisal from those not getting the donation.

  • The donors’ desire for transparency has got preference over citizens’ desire for transparency and the people’s right to know, which is more important in a democracy and critical for the fairness of elections.

Has there been any reprisal against a donor in the past?

  • The solution lies in having a National Electoral Fund, where companies can donate without indicating preference for any political party and thereby avoiding the reprisal they claim to fear.
  • The fund can be distributed transparently on the basis of actual performance.

Will that money be enough for political parties?

  • Between 2009 and 2014, the total donation shown by all political parties was 4,000 crore.
  • With all their efforts at blackmailing, arm-twisting and corruption, they got 4,000 crore.
  • They get 5,500 crore with dignity, by cheque, based on their performance, on objective criteria.
  • All political parties have been demanding an end to electoral corruption, and state funding of elections.

Simultaneous elections:

Arguments in favour:

  •  People love elections as the vote is the only power they have.
  •  Election time provides work opportunities to lakhs of youth
  • Frequent elections are good for the economy as the money goes from the rich to the poor.
  • National and local issues don’t get mixed up.
  •  Regional parties have an increasingly important role to play.

Argument against:

  • Dislocation of normal life.
  • Huge cost involved.
  •  Money in elections is the fountainhead of all corruption.
  •  Communalism and casteism are at a peak during elections.
  • Hateful, divisive politics is the consequence of frequent elections.

First- past –the post system (FPTP):

  •  There is demand for replacing FPTP with proportional representation (PR).

Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT):

  • Every political party has raised questions about EVMs at different times.
  •  In any case, after introduction of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), there is no ground left to quibble.
  • VVPAT makes the system transparent and foolproof.
  •  The EC has now committed to the Supreme Court that every election in future would be with 100% VVPAT.
  • The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections were the first-ever full VVPAT elections.

Credibility of the EC:

  • The problem lies in the process of appointment of Election Commissioners.
  • They are appointed by the government of the day with no consultation with the Opposition.
  • The most powerful electoral body in the world has the most defective system of appointment.

‘CJI-led Bench to resolve conflict over judgments(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Amid a conflict over “judicial discipline” within the Supreme Court in connection with certain land acquisition cases, a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra sets to resolve the conflict.

Background:

  • 2014: In 2014, three judges of the Supreme Court had ruled that the government’s acquiring land could be considered void if the money had not been deposited into the accounts of the landowners.
  • This ruling helped people who had refused to surrender their land and refused to accept the compensation amount.
  • 2018: But on February 8, 2018 a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra reversed this verdict.
  • This set of three judges decided that it was enough for the government to offer the compensation and it did not matter if the landowner refused to accept the money.
  • This judgment had declared the previous 2014 verdict as per incuriam — that is, delivered without care for the law or facts.
  • The Supreme Court has asked all high courts across the country to put off decisions in land acquisition disputes on the basis of these judgments till the matter was sorted out by March 7th, 2018.

Judicial discipline:

  • If a judgment is wrong, there is a method of reference to a larger bench and this is the practice being followed over the years.
  • This procedure needs a conscious judicial discipline.
  • But this judicial discipline has not been followed (by the Justice Arun Mishra bench).
  • If it wants to correct an earlier judgment, it should be done by the larger bench to make it (the judgment) as the last word.

GS: 3


Economy:

Banks face $3 bn write-off from PNB scam(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The 12,700 crore Letters of Undertaking (LoU) fraud at the Punjab National Bank (PNB) could punch a bigger hole in India’s banking system.

Introduction:

  • The closure of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi’s jewellery businesses by investigative agencies, is likely to result in another 8,000 crore of loans extended to them by banks turning into non-performing assets (NPAs).

Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines:

  • According to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines, banks have to write off the entire loan amount once a fraud has been reported.
  • The entire $2 billion exposure of the country’s second largest bank PNB through LoUs issued in favour of Nirav Modi group firms will have to be booked as an NPA.
  • Banks are preparing for another 8,000 crore or about $1.2 billion in bad loans, taking the total damage to about $3 billion.

ICICI Bank:

  • ICICI Bank leads the consortium of lenders to Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems.
  • The total amount of bank loans to Gitanjali stands at around 5,300 crore.
  • ICICI Bank has an exposure of 500 crore .
  • However, Punjab National Bank has the largest exposure to the Gitanjali group.
  • Bank loans to Nirav Modi’s firms — Firestar International Private Limited and Firestar Diamond International Private Limited — stand at about 2,500 crore.

Special mention accounts(SMA-2):

  • Bankers said the loans to these companies were already at the second category of special mention accounts (SMA-2).
  • If a loan repayment is due for over 60 days but less than 90 days, the account is accorded SMA-2 status.
  • If the dues remain unpaid for 90 days, it is classified as non-performing.

Shops closed:

  • Gitanjali Gems sold jewellery under brands such as Gili, Nakshatra, Asmi and Sanjini.
  • Nirav Modi’s stores as well as those operated by Mr Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems shut shop across the country after raids by investigative agencies.
  • All the shops are now closed, their business is definitely hit and they are not in a position to repay their debt.
  •  This would mean bank exposure to these entities will have to be classified as non-performing.

Background:

  • On February 14, 2018, PNB, the second largest lender of the country, informed stock exchanges about the fraudulent transactions of $1.8 billion or 11,500 crore in which unauthorised letters of undertakings were issued to secure overseas credit.
  • Later, the bank said the amount of fraudulent transactions could go up by another $204.25 million or 1,130 crore, taking the total money involved in the scam to $2 billion.
  • The Enforcement Directorate, which conducted searches at several premises of Nirav Modi and Gitanjali Gems across the country has seized assets over 5,000 crore, sealed a gamut of properties and frozen several bank and demat accounts.

Recent breakthrough:

  • In a major breakthrough, the Central Bureau of Investigation recently arrested Vipul Chitalia, the vice-president (banking operations) of Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Group of companies, in connection with the Punjab National Bank fraudulent transactions.

Delhi govt. clears plan for ration at doorstep(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Delhi government has approved a proposal to start home or doorstep delivery of ration under the Targeted Public Distribution System.

Introduction:

  • The decision was taken following a meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
  • According to the government official, there are around 7.2 million PDS beneficiaries in the Capital.

Delivery of ration:

  • The move allows home delivery of ration, including wheat flour, rice and sugar, in sealed packets under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
  • It is aimed at providing a higher level of transparency in the delivery system through inbuilt online monitoring, which will weed out corruption and diversion of food grains and intends to “save time and resources of ration beneficiaries.”
  • It will help beneficiaries to receive their due ration in a transparent manner with maximum ease.

Issues that residents are facing:

  • Theft of ration, poor quality of supplies and closed shops were the major issues that residents were facing.

Turf wars with ISRO stall connectivity: DoT official(The Hindu)

Context:

  • India builds the cheapest satellites but has the most expensive bandwidth, a government official said on Tuesday, blaming turf wars between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Telecom (DoT) for delays in taking connectivity to far-flung areas.

Introduction:

  • It will cost around 150 to serve one user with the current cost structure in the country whereas in the U.S., it costs $1 or 65.
  • As per the ISRO sources, more transponders were required on satellites.

Hurting business

  • It is hurting business development and ultimately people are not getting (benefited).

Problem of domain:

  • According to DoT’s special secretary N. Sivasailamhim, there is a “problem of domains” between the DoT and the ISRO that has impacted the roll-out of connectivity in far-flung areas for 20 years.

‘Aadhaar link deadline may be extended: govt.(The Hindu)

Context:

The Union government has indicated in the Supreme Court that the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail various services and welfare schemes run by the government might be further extended beyond March 31

Reason cited:

The Centre said that since some more time would be needed to conclude the prolonged hearing in the Aadhaar case, the government might extend the deadline from March 31.

Backdrop:

On 15th December 2017, the Supreme Court had extended till March 31 the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes

Rs. 1,000 cr. for research and innovation(The Hindu)

Context:

  • The Centre had sanctioned Rs. 1,000 crore for the Phase II of the Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) India programme.

Explanation:

  • Under the IMPRINT-II, a fund is being created by the Department of Science and Technology and Ministry of Human Resource Development together, in which participation will come from industry and other interested Ministries.
  • The project will be run as a separate vertical in coordination with the Department of Science & Technology.
  • The proposals for IMPRINT-II will be called from 16thMarch and will be sanctioned by May this year.

IMPRINT-I Programme:

  • Under the IMPRINT-I Programme, 142 projects at a cost of Rs. 318.71 crore are under implementation.
  • These projects cover crucial domains like security and defence, information technology, energy, sustainable habitat, advance materials, health care, nano technology, climate change, etc

‘ONGC Videsh, Iran’s IDRO Oil sign accord’(The Hindu)

Context:

ONGC Videsh has signed a MoU to collaborate with IDRO Oil in developing Susangerd field

What has happened?

ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas arm of state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), has signed a pact with Iran’s IDRO Oil to jointly bid for a $1 billion contract for development of Susangerd oilfield in southern Iran.

About Susangerd Field:

  • The onland Susangerd field is located 45-kilometres west of the city of Ahvaz in the Khuzestan province
  • It was discovered in 2009
  • It is estimated to hold more than 5 billion barrels of in-place oil reserves
  • Of these, 500 million barrels are recoverable.
  • Iran hopes that will produce around 30,000 barrels per day of oil in two development phases.

Joint Working group:

  • IDRO Oil had last month signed a similar pact with Russia’s Zarubezhneft to jointly bid for a contract to develop the Susangerd field.
  • The Iranian firm is looking at forming a consortium to make a case with the state-owned National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) for a contract for Susangerd

Development plan for the Golfinho-Atum natural gas field

  • The Government of Mozambique had given its approval to ONGC Videsh for the development plan for the Golfinho-Atum natural gas field in the Area 1 block in the Rovuma Offshore Basin of Mozambique.
  • The plan outlines the integrated development of the Golfinho-Atum field through an initial two train onshore liquefaction plant with a total processing capacity of 12.88 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA).

India to join multilateral lender EBRD(The Hindu)

Context:

  • India to join multilateral lender EBRD

Introduction:

  • European Bank of Reconstruction and Development shareholders approve its entry as 69th member.
  • EBRD’s board of governors, which represents all the existing shareholders of the UK-based bank, voted in favour of India’s membership application last week

Significance of this decision:

  • This is an important step in the relationship between the EBRD and India.
  • It will allow the EBRD to build on already close ties with India.
  • The move will enable Indian companies to undertake joint investments in regions in which the EBRD operates.
  • The move will see India take up a small stake in the bank, would spur further investment by Indian firms in a range of sectors from solar to utilities, providing them access to fast growing markets.
  • It will also enable Indian citizens to work for the organisation.

European Bank of Reconstruction and Development

  • The London-headquartered EBRD is a multilateral development bank set up in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin wall to promote private and entrepreneurial initiative in emerging Europe.
  • It invests in 38 emerging economies across three continents, according to a set of criteria that aim to make its countries more competitive, better governed, greener, more inclusive, more resilient and more integrated.
  • It remains committed to furthering the development of “market-oriented economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative.”
  • Other members who receive investments include Mongolia, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon, among a total of 38 member states.
  • Others including China, the U.S., U.K., and France are stakeholders, whose companies are able to invest in EBRD projects, but do not receive financing for domestic projects.
  • The EBRD’s largest shareholder is currently the U.S., while other G7 nations also hold significant stakes.
  • In 2017, the EBRD signed a pact with the International Solar Alliance, which was unveiled in 2015 in Paris.

First U.S. LNG shipment to reach India from Louisiana facility this month(The Hindu)

Context:

India will receive its first LNG import from the U.S. later in March

Details:

  • The sale purchase agreement was signed in December 2011
  • Under the terms of the agreement, GAIL would purchase approximately 3.5 million tonnes of LNG per year from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass.
  • The cargo from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility in Louisiana was loaded on to GAIL’s chartered LNG ship ‘Meridian Spirit’ on March 5.
  • The cargo is expected to discharge LNG at the Dabhol terminal of GAIL on or around March 28.

Significance:

  • The commencement of this agreement marks the start of a long and productive relationship between Cheniere and GAIL
  • This is expected to reinforce India-U.S. trade ties

Environment:

Innovations to combat ‘microfiber’ pollution(The Hindu)

Context:

Innovators are coming up with solutions to combat microfiber pollution

What is microfiber pollution?

  • Once clothes reach a washing machine, the synthetic fabrics release tiny strands: so-called microfibers.
  • Hundreds of thousands of microfibers are flushed down the drain.
  • Many reach beaches and oceans where they can remain for hundreds of years.

Source of Microfibers:

  • Microfibers found in oceans can originate from a wide variety of textiles (such as nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic or spandex)
  • Apparel products are not the only source of microplastic particles that are entering the oceans.
  • Other industries are also contributing to this problem, as are things like fishing nets, bottle caps, packaging and plastics bags that break down in the ocean.

Extent of Microfiber Pollution on Coastal Ecosystem

  • A 2011 study, led by Australian ecotoxicologist Mark Browne, found that microfibres made up 85% of man-caused shoreline debris.
  • The UN has identified microfibre pollution as a key outgrowth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced annually
  • A 2016 study in the Environmental Science & Technology found that more than a gram of microfibres is released every time synthetic jackets are washed and that as much as 40% of those microfibres eventually enter waterways.
  • According to a new IUCN report, between 15% to 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by household and industrial products, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea.
  • The IUCN calculates that 35% of this microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles.
  • Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.
  • Microfibers eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways, and can be eaten or absorbed by marine animals, some of which are later served as seafood.

Innovations to Combat Microfiber Pollution:

  • There are few products, with names such as Guppyfriend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibres.
  • Guppyfriend is a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping.
  • Cora Ball is a multicolored ball designed to bounce around the washing machine, trapping microfibres in appendages that resemble coral.
  • Lint LUV-Ris a filter that attaches to a laundry water discharge hose.
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