Indian political parties fear RTI consequences; skip CIC hearing

On being asked questions through RTI on their largest donors and the manner of these donations by the Association for Democratic Reforms, all national political parties except for CPI declined to give the information


The thick skin of most of major political parties towards transparency and information dissemination was revealed yet again on Wednesday, 26th September, when most of them boycotted the hearing of the Central Information Commission (CIC) on the issue of whether political parties come under Right to Information (RTI). The full bench of the CIC comprising Satyananda Mishtra, Annupurna Dixit and ML Sharma was forced to keep the matter pending as only NCP and CPI were represented at the hearing, in the appeal made by RTI applicants Anil Bairwal and Subhas Chandra Agarwal. The CIC bench has given the general secretaries of the political parties one more chance to be present at the hearing, the date of which will be soon announced.

 

The CIC had asked the general secretaries of the All India Congress Committee, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bahujan Samaj Party and Public Information Officer of the Election Commission of India to be present for the hearing on Wednesday. It had stated in its notice sent to all of them on 10th September that “the Commission has received three complaints—one from Anil Bairwal and two from Subhas Chandra Agarwal—against the various political parties for not supplying/for supplying incomplete information under the RTI Act, 2005. Some of the political parties in their replies to the complainants have claimed that they are not a “Public Authority” and as such they are not covered by the RTI Act 2005. Since the issues involved are serious and the decision in these cases can have wider implications, the commission has decided to place these cases before a Full Bench…’’

 

After the Association for Democratic Reforms’ (ADR) RTI application to the political parties in 2010, only the general secretary of the CPI, AB Bardhan replied that: “a) Yes. We are Public Authority under Section 2 (h)(d)(ii) “non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government; and b) we have our internal appellate authority ‘Central Control Commission.’ The CPI also promptly provided a list of their largest donors, their addresses and the mode of payment of these donations.

 

Motilal Vora, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee replied that “…since the AICC does not come under the RTI Act your application along with postal order for Rs10 is returned herewith.’’ Hari Singh Kang, general secretary of CPI (M) replied that: “we are not a ‘Public Authority’ as per the provisions of the RTI Act. Hence, we are under no obligation to provide information sought for.’’ The BJP did not even bother to send a reply. Neither did BSP. NCP replied but said that it didn’t have enough man-power to provide the information asked for.

 

The information sought by ADR from the political parties was: “Sources of the 10 maximum voluntary contributions received by your party from financial year 2004-05 to financial year 2009-10; the modes of these donations (cheque, cash, DD, etc); the amount of these donations; the financial years in which these contributions were made; and sources/names of voluntary contributors along with their addresses who have made single contributions of more than Rs1 lakh to your party from financial year 2004-05 to financial year 2009-10.”

 

In July 2012, the ADR received information under the RTI Act, regarding the income and assets of six national parties and 36 regional political parties from the Election Commission and Income Tax authorities across the country.  It had also simultaneously filed RTI applications to each of these political party offices seeking information from the six national parties, a list of the names of the donors and modes of payments of these donations. Both these RTI applications (the one to the EC and income tax authorities as well as to the political party offices) were filed in 2010. It has taken one and a half year for the bench of the CIC to call for the hearing.

 

Anil Bairwal, national co-ordinator for ADR who is crusading for making political party donations transparent elaborates on why they come under RTI Act since they are ‘substantially’’ financed by the government. He states: “It is common knowledge that the political parties get lot of benefits and facilities from various government departments. Political parties get substantially financed by a very large amount by getting tax exemption on all their income. In addition, all the major political parties have been also provided facilities for residential and official use by Directorate of Estates (DoE). They have been given offices and accommodations at prime locations like Akbar road, Raisina Road, Chanakyapuri, etc and are charged only a token of money as rent or dues. These facilities are not just provided to them at marginal rates but their maintenance, upgradation, modernisation, renovation and construction is also done at state expense. A large amount of money is also spent by Election Commission of India on political parties for giving electoral rolls.’’

 

He further states: “Doordarshan and AIR also provide free broadcast facilities to the political parties. If closely seen, the money spent on that basis actually runs in crores of rupees. State funding is also given for publicity of political parties during elections. It is indeed very surprising that the political parties who at one end claim to work under transparent and people-centric manner have flatly refused to work in such a fashion.’’

 

The press release of ADR stated that: “the leaders of all political parties publically maintain that they are committed to transparency and probity in the functioning of political parties. However, when it comes to the implementation, their behavior is completely opposite. These replies bring to the fore the biggest

farce that our democracy is plagued with—the opaque functioning of political parties with no space for engagement with the citizens and no willingness to open themselves to public scrutiny.’’

 

Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch in 2008 had also won the CIC judgement making I-T returns and contribution reports of political parties available in the public domain. Even at that time all political parties had opposed to part with this information. CIC had, however, directed the Income Tax authorities to make this information public as there was huge public interest in the information.

 

Analysis of the replies showed that the top five political parties with the highest total income between 2004-05 and 2010-11 (last seven years) are:  Congress with Rs 2,008 crore followed by BJP: Rs994 crore, BSP: Rs484 crore, CPM: Rs417 crore and SP: Rs279 crore.. The ADR also found from this information that majority of the money comes from donations, however; the names of donors formed a small percentage on the official record.

 

The Act defines public authorities thus:

h)          “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted,—

(a)                by or under the Constitution ;

(b)               by any other law made by Parliament;

(c)                by any other law made by State Legislature;

(d)               by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government,

and includes any--

         (i)       body owned, controlled or substantially financed;

         (ii)      non-government organisation substantially financed,

          directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government;”

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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    COMMENTS

    MOHAN SIROYA

    7 years ago

    Indeed very SAD for the future of Indian Democracy.
    It is high time that the Election Commission of India issue a notice to all recognized political parties TO COVER THEMSELVES as "Public Authorityand be accountable to the nation/people.

    Mohan Siroya
    Chairperson -- Consumer Complaints Cell

    MK Gupta

    7 years ago

    No wonder, since not a single party can survive a day without the support and generation of black money shared by them. Political parties or persons are the same all over the country, nay, the world over. But, in India, political parties have all along been surviving and thriving on and with black money stashed in Swiss banks--in various names--and the so called Communists and ultra Leftists including some doyens of journalism are no exception. Let the CBDT be made an autonomous and independent body like the CAG or the CVC and then see their true colour and that of our "leaders" organising dharnas after leaving the ruling coalition fot gaining extra mileage after altready reaping the benefits of the black economuy and juicy miinistries! IT Officer-slapping or selling paintings after suddenly becoming self-taught painters to meet huge expenses on a win-win game of politics apart, the basics of all political animals is the same. Elections are fought and won with dishonestly and fraudulently organised state-managed or gun-toting-gangs led rigging and purchased votes--a tradition inherited from our dear Colonial past when district Board elections were won by the Khadi brigades supported by the ruling class. And, come summer-our leading lights in the Left field start cool foreign (lecture) sojourns, feigning intellectual superiority having no experience ever with facing general elections on mother eart! And they claim to be pro-people but never question the basis of the legal status and Constitutional validity of the all-powerful status and right to access all state secrets given to the UPA/NAC Chairman! Courage and integrity are words no more to be found in the lost dictionaries of the animals in the political arena who can go to any extent to remain in power and limelight, including the self-styled anti-corruption crusaders being likened to Gandhi! Sic!

    sohan modak

    7 years ago

    Vinita,
    RTI is a hard won privilage of Indian people and must be defended at any cost.

    sohan modak

    TIHARwale

    7 years ago

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who gave a sermon to the nation about money not growing on trees, spent Rs 7,721 on each plate of dinner that was served at the recent third anniversary celebrations of the UPA-II government held at his residence here.

    Ironically, the Singh-led UPA-II government expects the aam aadmi to live on Rs 26 or Rs 32 a day.

    Effectively, what Singh has spent on each plate, could feed 296 aam aadmis for a day.

    This information was revealed in response to an RTI application filed by activist Ramesh Verma. According to the reply, at a time when fiscal deficit remains a cause of worry and the growth rate is floundering, Rs 11,34,296 was spent on food at the dinner party. A sum of Rs 14,42,678 was spent on tent arrangements and Rs 26,444 was shelled out for flowers. The total bill of an ‘austere’ government’s dinner party was Rs 28,95,503.

    The PM had invited 603 people for the party but only 375 invitees attended it.

    "the above is report appering in TNIE today".

    So there is no hope Gadkari, Sushma, Pawar, Karuna, Maya, Mulayam, Communists all are stripping the assets as per power vested on them by the electorate. Sonia is the smartest of them as she is holding incriminating evidences against others and she is using it for black mail as admitted by a desperate Mamata other day in an interview in CNN IBN and Manmohan is the biggest crook who has no hesitation in trading his chair for acting as a benami for Sonia. O mighty Queen pass on the wine, Oh Pope the bastard pass on the custard. Jai bolo Be-imaan ki Jai bolo.

    ashok sen

    7 years ago

    Ms Desmukh writes with such clarity.She should write to the main national dailies on this issue, so that more people become aware of what she so rightly states.
    Her statement
    These replies bring to the fore the biggest farce that our democracy is plagued with—the opaque functioning of political parties with no space for engagement with the citizens and no willingness to open themselves to public scrutiny.’’

    is so true.We citizens need to agitate to bring our corrupt,venial politicians to book.The system needs cleansing.In the U.S. currently, a part of the reason Mit Romney will lose is that he refuses to give his tax returns for the past ten years,leading to many Republicans to distrust him, and vote for the democrats.

    REPLY

    M G WARRIER

    In Reply to ashok sen 7 years ago

    I agree with your observations. But cannt resist the temptation to joke that 'if in US it takes ten years to detect a lapse in filing tax return, we in India have enough time to catch up: )'

    ashok sen

    In Reply to M G WARRIER 7 years ago

    Mr. Warrier,
    I think you misunderstood my comment, or maybe I was not sufficiently clear.
    Romney filed his tax returns, but is unwilling to let it be public knowledge.
    By law he is right, but when you are in the public eye, one has to go beyond what is required by law,and prove you are morally above mere mortals.

    M G WARRIER

    In Reply to ashok sen 7 years ago

    That is why I qualified it as a joke. A country with three times India's geographical area, cent per cent literacy, 200 years history of independence, less than one third our population and the entire world's resources under control can have perfect systems in place. Thanks.

    nagesh kini

    7 years ago

    Vinita is right.
    Letting off political parties will set a very bad precedent for the rest of the aam janata.

    Failure to attend should be slapped with contempt proceedings and maximum penalty imposed.

    The EC and Income Tax should be called upon to furnish all information filed with them and proceedings launched.

    None of the Parties that speak of democracy practice it themselves - there is no inner party democracy. Only the High Command and Party Chief diktats a la INC and TNC/Shiv Sena and MNS speak for themselves!

    In Modi’s good-governance regime, four villagers expose mega housing scam using RTI

    Four villagers who tenaciously used RTI are presently on a satyagraha in front of the Rajkot district collectorate demanding action against corrupt officials in  the Indira Awaas Yojana but no one, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, is listening

    While Narendra Modi’s Gujarat is portrayed as a sterling example of good governance, brazen corruption in the premier housing scheme, Indira Awaas Yojana meant for those below poverty line (BPL) has not led to action against corrupt officials who have been diverting housing funds meant for the poorest of the poor to the ‘rich’ and ‘influential’ of the village, as exposed through RTI (Right to Information).

     

    The Indira Awaas Yojana scheme is run by the Union rural development ministry to construct houses for people below poverty line. The financial assistance comprises Rs75,000 allotted to a woman or in the joint name of husband and wife. It is also extended to widows and war widows. It was the plight of a poor widow of Dhank village in Rajkot district that led to the corruption trail through incriminating evidence found through a series of RTI applications filed in the last two years, but the corrupt continue to be protected.

     

    To protest against inaction by the state government, four villagers of Dhank in Rajkot district where the scam was exposed, Bharatbhai Ghughal, Bhanjibhai Jogel Naranbhai Varagiya and Govind Gangera are on satyagraha for the past one week in front of the Rajkot Collector’s office, to demand proper action against officers responsible for corruption in Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY). These officers, which include block development officers, assistant engineers and sarpanchs diverted funds to the rich and influential of the village for renovation of their houses. In some cases, the very same ‘rich’ and ‘influential’ people were also beneficiaries of another similar state government-run scheme, Sardar Patel Awaas Yojana (SPAY). As per rules, only villagers below poverty line can avail of one of the two schemes.

     

    The endless power of citizen empowerment through RTI is reflected in this particular case, two villagers of Dhank who studied up to Std VII—Bharatbhai Ghughal and Bhanjibhai Jogel—tirelessly pursued the RTI route for two long years and blew the lid off a mega housing scam that is allegedly prevalent in most villages of Gujarat. Their frustration at corrupt officials not being punished despite incriminating evidence they exposed forcing the State Information Commission to direct vigilance commission to take action, has forced them to sit on satyagraha in front of the Rajkot Collector’s office.

     

    In a press statement issued by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) which has guided these two villagers to crusade through RTI,  Ghughal and Jogel have stated that, “We are agriculture labourers. Through RTI we came to know about the scam. We have approached the vigilance commission, as well as panchayat, rural housing department but no action is being taken against the officers who were responsible for this corruption. We were threatened by village sarpanch and panchayat officials but we are fighting for the cause to change the system. It’s almost a year but government has not taken any action against the responsible officers.” The press release has appealed to citizens and activists, nationwide to contact Bhanjibhai Jogel, Bharatbhai Ghughal on 09974573036 for moral support and send emails requesting action on the corrupt to   RM Patel, Additional Chief Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Housing Dept (GOG)

    [email protected], [email protected]; D Rajgopalan, Chief Information Commissioner – Gujarat [email protected] ; Rajendar Kumar,  District Collector Rajkot [email protected] and/or N B Upadhyay, District Development Officer, [email protected].

     

    Jogel and Ghughal filed RTI applications at the Gram Panchayat office in 2010 requesting names of the beneficiaries in Dhank village for the IAY and SPAY schemes for the last five years. When the sarpanch came to know of this, he along with his men beat the duo. In fact, he threatened to kill them by burning their houses in the night—a statement which he made in front of the District Development Officer (DDO) who was unmoved by it. Refusing to cow down, they took the help of Pankti Jog, a RTI activist working for MAGP which also has a whistleblowers’ helpline, based in Ahmedabad. She filed a police complaint and also ensured police protection to them.

     

    When the PIO did not reply, they filed the first appeal with the first appellate authority, that is, the District Development Office of Rajkot district. During the hearing, the PIO submitted a hand-written chit with six names of beneficiaries who received allotment out of the rules. Jogel and Ghughal refused this shabby information and demanded a certified copy of the list of beneficiaries and whether they belonged to the BPL section of the society. Says Pankti Jog, “finally multiple RTI applications were filed to procure the same information and finally they received the list. The information stated that there were 65 beneficiaries in the last five years out of which 22 of them belonged to the affluent class and had received multiple benefits, meaning they received money two to three times under the two housing schemes and had renovated their houses with it.”

     

    Jogel and Ghughal then analysed the sheet, re-worked it in an excel sheet format and with red marks defining irregularities. They then sent it to the Vigilance Commission for suitable action against the illegal beneficiaries. Says Pankti Jog, “The Vigilance Commission was initially slow in its action but in March 2011 directed the principal secretary of the panchayat department to conduct and inquiry and submit its report to the commission. The panchayat department sought details from the District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) by conducting investigation on ground. The two RTI applicants helped the authorities in identifying homes and the DRDA conducted a panchnama and collected testimonials which proved that 22 affluent households had indeed siphoned the money meant for the poorest of the poor.

     

    Manu Moudgil, who has done a case study on this issue states that the villagers bravely used the RTI after the conventional methods of procuring failed. He writes, “it was in 2010 that Gughal and Jogal observed that well-to-do people owning large properties were getting the houses meant for below poverty line persons. They, joined by four others, decided to raise the issue first through official representations. Their first step was to file a joint complaint to the Taluka (Tehsil) Development Officer (TDO) on 30 March 2010, seeking an inquiry into the matter. Getting no response from the administration, they armed themselves with knowledge about the RTI Act, which they had heard was bringing about transparency in governance.” 

     

    Despite incriminating evidence found against the seven officers including the sarpanch of the village Dhank which has a population 7,000 odd, neither the Panchayat Department nor the Vigilance Commission is taking action against them. States Pankti Jog, “corruption in these housing schemes’ disbursal of money runs in crores of rupees across Gujarat but the Narendra Modi government seems hesitant to take action.” The reason why these poor villagers have had to resort to satyagraha.

     

    (Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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    COMMENTS

    MK Gupta

    7 years ago

    Hey Ram!

    Ravindra

    7 years ago

    Narendra Modi has his eyes set on the Central Government where such scams is a qualification. Maybe he is aquiring the qualifications necessary for the Central Leader.

    Krishnan B S

    7 years ago

    Congress has been actively working on Corruption in Gujarat. However, Can you please use RTI and find out What is the expenditure for Ms Sonia Gandhi on her foreign trips and also which countries she visits every time and purpose of the same ?

    R Balakrishnan

    7 years ago

    Hope the people who filed the RTI and got the information out are not hounded by the Modi govt

    GOVIND GOPAL SHANBHAG

    7 years ago

    Mm Vinita - Excellent coverage and from where you get all these interesting details. Please keep us informed further development.

    Rakesh Goyal

    7 years ago

    Vigilance Commission in Gujarat is an ornamental post. VC is not bothered to take any action against proved misconduct of officials of GoG. I am also dealing and following up with VC GoG with one such matter.

    Is the President’s office telling lies on Pratibha Patil’s 155 gift items?

    Two different replies under RTI by the President of India office to the query of 155 gift items.  The other reply says Pratibha Patil “has not taken any gifts”

    While this writer was informed through a RTI (Right to Information) reply that 155 gift items have been taken by former President Pratibha Patil from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to showcase them in her private museum in Amravati until 15th June 2013 after which she will return them back to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, another RTI activist Ambrish Pandey has been informed through a RTI reply that “Pratibha Patil has not taken any gift items after the end of her term.”

     

    In a bizarre twist to the information dissemination by the Public Information Officer (PIO) Saurabh Vijay of the President’s Secretariat, Mr Pandey got this reply to his query seeking information, related to each and every gift item taken by Smt Pratibha Patil (along with her) after end of her tenure as President of India, description of the item, value of the item (as per records) and photograph of the item (if available in records).

     

    Mr Pandey is a noted RTI activist and had recently procured deadly information on allotment of guns between 31 August 2001 and 12 April 2012 from the anti-smuggling unit of the Customs Department. The reply had revealed the indiscriminate allotment to MPs and MLAs across party lines, some of them with criminal backgrounds.

     

    Mr Pandey, in his RTI application dated 5 August 2012 addressed to the PIO, Rashtrapati Bhavan, had also sought copies of “of rules/regulations/any official document under which she (Pratibha Patil) was allowed to take gift items along with her” and “if the said items were loaned to her” to “provide the certified copies of allotment letter/contract note/agreement by which the said items were loaned to her”. The PIO replied that “these questions do not arise” in view of the reply he gave that “Pratibha Patil has not taken any gift items after the end of her term.”

     

    To Mr Pandey’s request of providing “the certified copies of rules/regulations/any official document which have provisions for loaning of gift items received by the President of India, the PIO replied: “no such rules and regulations are available for loaning of gift items received by the President of India.”

     

    Mr Pandey’s other query, “please provide me with the details of eligibility criteria under which any Indian citizen can avail gift items (received by the President of India) on loan basis; if the news reported by various newspapers is hoax (that gift items were taken by her) please provide the certified copies of your office letter/press release by which any refutation was pronounced or communicated” the PIO replied that “no press release has been issued in the matter”.

     

    Asked whether, “any security money has been taken from her towards the gift items loaned to her, please provide the details as per available records”, the reply to this question was “does not arise” as “she has not taken any gifts”.

     

    On Monday, Moneylife had carried a story on this writer’s RTI reply received from the President of India office regarding the gift items taken by Pratibha Patil to showcase it in a museum run by her politician-son. See this link: http://www.moneylife.in/article/pratibha-patil-to-return-155-artifacts-to-rashtrapati-bhavan-by-15-june-2013-reveals-rti-reply/28508.html

     

    Also see: Pratibha Patil’s Museum: Gifts received by VVIPs from foreign countries can be purchased by them but can they be loaned?

     

    (Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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    COMMENTS

    C M Vairale

    7 years ago

    Are we setting a wrong set of precedents by such acts? Unfortunately no one can take what he or she owns in this materialistic world when one dies..
    Even the land which was made by the 'Maker' is stamped by individual ownership!Why is the human not happy with the life experiences?Why does he/she need material things? Do we have no rules ,regulations to follow?Can we see Happiness/Sadness,Can we see Peace/Disturbance,Can we see satisfaction/failure? All are felt and experienced by the brain... none tangible!

    Dr Anantha K Ramdas

    7 years ago

    Thanks Vinita for again handling the hot issue of our former President Pratibha Patil's activities. This has actually opened the Pandor's box.

    First is have a statutory control over gifts received by President/PM and other government officials; establish a Gift centre where all the gifts be displayed for visitors to view them for a fee. At the end of 5 years or so, the gifts can be auctioned, and the net proceeds credited to a Children's Education Fund for giving scholarship to needy kids.

    We need to get the President's estate to account for all the gifts since inception. Where did they also go?

    I am looking forward to our President Pranab Mukherji to introduce some kind of austerity
    measures also as this will really add dignity to the Chair.

    Hitesh vira

    7 years ago

    Reading the stories is giving us depresion & helpness towards the scam. The future of country looks dim

    Vijay Deshmukh

    7 years ago

    It is a biggest fraud from ethical point of view in which ex President, Presidents office and congress party is involved. It is a eye opener story that reflects the extent of downfall of character quality at such highest post. It is very shameful to country.

    Ravindra Pathak

    7 years ago

    It is very clear that the information provided is not correct.Since in dependance it is 23725 days till Aug 2012.The Presidents either receives or visits at least one foreign dignitary every day.Consider they received or met foreign visitors only 50% of those days and that makes 12000+ days and those many gifts.How come Toshakhana has only 2500 gifts? How many were purchased by individuals and at what cost/How many went missing?How are they accounted for?Why no valuation is done?Many questions are left answered or need answers by Rashtrapati Bhavan.

    Having dealt with the Rashtrapati Bhavan when we took on the Land Grab case i am fully aware of how much the so called bureaucrats who are supposed to do their duty in good faith and hence are exempt from prosecution, are capable to telling lies or half truths.

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