NAPM Report: To Nandigram via Singur

A Preliminary Report on the Struggle and Violence in Nandigram

[Sometime ago (28 January 2007), CPM general secretary, Prakash Karat, had written in People’s Democracy against ‘the likes of Medha Patkar’ and those whom he called ‘modern day Narodniks’, for opposing the industrialization of West Bengal. The burden of Karat’s song in that piece was that what he called ‘the single-issue crowd’, was unbale to see the big picture – the Totality, as his marxist faith would have it. It is interesting that this point has never been responded to though it continues to be part of marxist understanding for a very long time. It might be worth keeping this in mind while reading the following report. The questions raised by it link up the immediate question of land acquisition with the question of ecological impact of making a chemical hub on the rivers Haldi and Hooghly; the question of livelihoods linked to fisheries with those of a larger development paradigm. Clearly, when the impact of global warming is beginning to be seen right here, this looks certainly like a much more holistic view, in comparison to that which can see nothing but industrialization and capitalism as the only reference point. – AN]

Nandigram has come on to the country’s map within a few months old struggle as also killing and atrocities during last few days of this New Year. The people’s determination not to give away their lands full of paddy, coconut and palm trees, ponds and fisheries for the two SEZs upcoming in Midnapore was expressed through many a demonstration including the Mahasabha on December 8th 2006. The Ganaunnayan Janadhikar Sangram Committee, an alliance of 22 peoples’ organizations including Jamat–e-Ulema–Hind, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Hindu Muslim Friendship and others, was formed in 2004 when 5000 acres of land, mostly of Muslim farmers, was to be acquired for the same Salim Industries in ‘Bhangad’, on the outskirts of Kolkata. The struggle is still on. The same committee, with statewide coverage took up the issue of Nandigram, about three months back, and the struggle began. A peaceful struggle in this region known for the historical contribution to the freedom movement and Tebhaga movement, picked up quite fast and with a clear perspective.

The people’s viewpoint is: ‘No destruction of agriculture based livelihoods and communities is necessary and inevitable for industrialization’; ‘no justification to set up a chemical hub on the banks of two rivers Hugli and Haldi’ and ‘no consent’ to a project undemocratically planned with impending forcible acquisition of 38,873 acres of prime land and habitats on the same’. It has helped convey the strength and unity as also a challenge to the state government of West Bengal and the SEZ approving authorities at the Center.

On January 6th 2007, a Nandigram based Bhumi Ucchhed Pratirodh Committee came into being. The Trinamul Congress (TCM) through its MLA in the adjacent constituency, Mr. Subhendu Adhikari, the Socialist Unity Center of India (SUCI), the Congress and a comparatively newly formed regional party
(People’s Democratic Conference of India) also extended support and except CPI, others joined the committee with their representatives. The CPI, through Atul Anjan, its Member of Parliament had also held a rally in the area where CPI MLA, Illias Mohammed represented the affected population and
also declared its opposition to the project. It is a clear mandate of the people including farmers, fishworkers and others against the handing over their generation old inherited, protected homes and farms, their gardens and fish, rivers and ponds to Salim Industries from Indonesia that has brought all the opposition parties to support the struggle.

The Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 and the projects have come to be scrutinized and challenged across the country not only by the affected people but also by the eminent scholars, economists to social policymakers. In spite of some critical comments and questions raised by a few within the UPA, (RSP) not less than 403 SEZs are approved by the Board of Approval till date as against the initially declared limit and target of 150 SEZs. All parties passed the Act that was passed unanimously by all parties and alliance including the Left Front, within two days time in 2005, is now known to be anti-national and unconstitutional. The “deemed foreign territories” it avows to establish are to come up on the forcibly acquired farm land without any concern for the livelihood loss and destitution faced by the affected (whether or not they are paid a better compensation) nor for the food security for the country as a whole. The unjustifiable relief from taxes and concessions in the export import duty granted to the corporates, the provision for 75% of land to be allowed to be used for non industrial purpose, are clear indications of the extra favors doled out to the corporates under the Act, promoting vulgar profit motives. Although claimed to be industrialization, SEZs are without any guarantee of employment generation and uncertainty of the number as well as nature of jobs to be created in the absence of any agreement among the investors and the State, why talk of the affected population? The statements by politicians in various states and at the center with estimates of ten to fifteen lakh jobs are merely rhetorical. On the contrary, the choice of the industries in proposed SEZs made by the State in alliance with the corporates including the real estate developers and IT promoters, is of one category at the cost of another category of enterprises. As even in the SEZ Act, definition of ‘Manufacturing’ includes agriculture, horticulture as well as pisciculture yet all of these are to be killed for one kind of manufacturing guided by the capital intensive, market-driven industrial culture for profits not people. The shocking provisions under the unprecedented legal measures include declaring the industries and services, irrespective of their nature, as ‘Public Utility Service’ and thus compromising on labour laws as also handing over the entire administration of the SEZ to specially appointed Development Commissioners with power of Labour commissioner also delegated to them. Is this not reverting back the achievements of the labor movement with contribution from all including the major contribution by the Left including the Marxists and the Socialists?

Moreover the local communities in areas designated for SEZs are to be forced to get transformed into a municipal township as against the rural local; self-government, through most undemocratic procedure. The designation of a special judge for all suits and notified offences in SEZ and thus creating a niche within the judiciary, making special rules such as time
limits to raise a dispute, is also a serious compromise with the principle of “all citizens to be equal before the law”. The loss to the public exchequer is estimated to be 1.75 lakh crores annually (rising with the number of approved SEZs) while the social, economic and political cost to the people directly and indirectly affected by such an imperialist way to accumulation of wealth and politico-economic power by the corporates, in the name of industrialization, is yet unknown to this sovereign country.

The chemical hub at the cost of the feeding bowl

Nandigram in Midnapur district is an area with two SEZs coming up for which, as per the list published by the Board of Approval under the Ministry of Commerce, Union of India, 22,000 acres of land was to be acquired. Today, however, it is clear that the proposal by Haldia Development Authority, West Bengal, is of not less than 38,873 acres of land in about
100 moujas, in the area of three police stations including Nandigram, Sutahata and Haldia. All of this land, is today a rice bowl, why a feeding bowl, with paddy fields, ponds – small and large – with paying and feeding fisheries, coconut plants and housing the safe and secure village communities accommodating thousands of migrant laborers, artisans such as tailors and traders in fish and vegetables. Tens of kilometers away, in Haripur, falling in the same district, there is also a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 10,000 MWs for which 40,000 acres of more land is to be acquired. Thousands of fish workers in the Contai region with farmers and agricultural -laborers are opposing this onslaught on their livelihoods, tooth and nail.

With sixty percent and more population belonging to Muslim communities, the Nandigram area is known, not for communal riots but its contribution to the national freedom struggle with a martyrdom that is still remembered. The people of Nandigram were at the forefront of the boycott of British goods in 1901; the Khilafat, non-cooperation movement in 1921;when chowkidari system and tax by the British was opposed, compelling the British to withdraw. Salt Satyagraha in 1930 made the district popular. In Tebhaga movement in 1946, Nandigram fought for the rights of the sharecroppers successfully. It was then CPI that led the movement, which was for the right to work, right to land and right to life of the people. This is the historical reason behind the CPI holding on to the legislative seat in the area even today. Khudiram Bose and Matangini Hajra are among the many martyrs who hailed from this very region.

The district of Midnapore, especially the affected villages, is not
developed as per the western modern and elitist perspective and there is no doubt, still dearth of even basic amenities such as electricity in many villages, however, for the small population living on the bountiful natural resource base, this does not matter, beyond an extent, as long as they have
a permanent source of livelihood. But is this snatching away of the resources of the minority community,in keeping with the direction pointed to by the Sachar Committee Report or the political response by the PM himself (as well as the Left Front) highlighting a need for preference to minorities in resource
allocation? It is also to be kept in mind that in this case, not only will the land go but the river and fish bound to be affected with chemical pollution.

The landowners tell us that even a small plot of land in the area is enough to feed them with the fish, vegetable and paddy cultivated and available locally. The greenery is indicative of the fuel available, grazing ground around and coconut as a
supplementary source of income it is this land and the houses of landowners located on the individually owned land and of others and the government land that are going to be

As in Singur, there is no dispute here over the number of the land holders, bargadars and laborers as yet, nor are there any facts and myths, controversy over the people’s view of the proposed SEZs, since the government of West Bengal or the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) have not conducted any household survey nor have started giving any figures or plans related to rehabilitation. It is only the local youth from the struggle committee who say they have conducted a household survey of 600 families to find that only 12 families are favoring the project. They also indicate that the number of families affected can be as large as 8,000 including all the households and families belonging to different occupational categories and ownership status including landowners, bargadars and laborers.

In any case there is no state level Rehabilitation policy common for all development projects in West Bengal, while the National Rehabilitation Policy (NRP) of 2003 is only on paper and still new one is merely promised through the statements such as one made by the Prime Minister from the platform of FICCI recently, yet to be finalized. The years long experience of drafting and getting the policy approved by the Center show the lack of political will to bring in a policy for justice to the affected people. The last draft of 2005prepared by many people’s organizations presented to the National Advisory Council (NAC) chaired by Sonia Gandhi, and approved by the NAC with some changes should be made available and held consultations on. We all have rejected a still new draft policy brought in by Ministry of Rural Development in 2006, and requested the same. It may also be noted that the NRP 2003 has as its first objective ‘to minimize displacement’ and the same is not applied anywhere in planning including SEZ. The monitoring committee with Central secretaries as members under NRP 2003 is not even activated. How valuable will then be the exercise of mere policy making?
There has to be an enactment and that too not only on rehabilitation but on development planning itself.

The Land Acquisition or “Primitive Accumulation” of the territory?

The principle of eminent domain which is a legacy of the British, carried forward in independent India has come handy to all the governments including the Left Front who are all out to shake hands with the capitalists. As was told to us by the Minister for Industries, Nirupam Sen, during our meeting as a part of the public investigation in relation to the Singur conflict in October 2006 “after all it’s a neo-liberal economy and every government has to adjust and even compromise”. Indonesia’s Salim Industries has come to land on the West Bengal’s land since 2003, when 5000 acres near Kolkata was decided to be handed over to Salim Industries. The farmers’ continuing protests have not allowed their land as well as rights to be bulldozed and the struggle is still on.

The CPI (M) after the renewed victory, under the leadership of Buddhadev Bhattacharya, is no doubt proud of a clear people’s mandate. However, their promise in the election
manifesto was not of industries at the cost of agriculture and huge displacement, but of development of both agriculture and industry. There seems to be no concern for attaining the balance by using only the wasteland and the land unused or misused by the closed industries. There are more than fifty thousand closed factories in the West Bengal itself. A small example of 257 acres of land acquired in Nandigram years ago yet lying till date is also revealing.

The SEZs proposed by the HDA, however, are for chemical industries and the hub is to come up on the land between the two rivers, Haldi and Hugli. No assessment of environmental impacts is undertaken nor it is mandatory under the fast track, pro corporate SEZ approvals. The Land Acquisition has not started as yet, and it cannot, since both the SEZs in Midnapur have received ‘in principle’ approval and not the final approval. The whole episode of the Buddhadev declaration of “bhool” (a mistake) has exposed not just a simple instance of but a totally illegal act. The HDA published a note called “Special Notice” regarding the 16 moujas from where land is to be acquired without any stamp and signature. This informative notice too could not and should not have been distributed without receiving the final approval. All this shows the way SEZs have become a fate accompli. It is obvious that there would be no opportunity to raise objections any more inspite of the legal provision under section 4 and 5 of the Land Acquisition Act. It is invariably experienced in all projects that
the political expediency and financial stakes deny that opportunity which was granted even by the British regime. The same would happen in Nandigram whatever may be the
public announcements, promising consultation to consideration of the people’s viewpoint.

However the flawed or mistaken action did not end at this false intimation by HDA amounting to cheating as well as intimidation. All that followed, up to killing and brutal repression of the people, has its root into this, as is evident from Budhadebji’s statement itself. Can he or HDA be simply forgiven? Will they take the responsibility for the deaths that are seen by the local people to be the new martyrdom for second freedom movement?

The present status of SEZs in Midnapur is that land acquisition is not formally begun nor is it completed on to falsely suggest ‘consent’ as in Singur. However the statements by the Left Front leaders, Salim Industry owners and lately by Mr. Ramvilas Paswan, Minister for Chemical Industries who is seen with Salim in the Media (Indian
Express, January 17th) indicate that there is no rethinking about the SEZ’s in Midnapore district. According to the CM, villagers would be consulted and convinced of the new plan before the land is taken over. Hardly anyone in Nandigram has faith in the government approaching them with an open mind and folded hands. The contradictions within the Left Front with the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc supporting the struggling
farmers may or may not come to their help, as it has not for those in Singur.

There is, on the contrary, a new line of action suggested by the strategic politicians may it be Mr. Sharad Pawar and Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh or Mr. Paswan. The latter has suggested that the corporate giant should purchase the land instead of the West Bengal government acquiring it forcibly. No doubt, forcible acquisition for private industry with private purpose legally permitted through the 1984 amendment in the LAQ Act, 1894, needs to be challenged. However, how can one allow the conspiracy to keep the farmers indebted by not giving their due in terms of the price for the produce, a gift
of nature and labour, and then to buy them over? Will the farmer, as the disadvantaged in the face of iniquitous and exploitative market strategies, need an act against land
alienation, similar to one for adivasis? If not protected, can the country afford to lose much or all of its agricultural land and allow millions of its farmers to be landless? Who would and who should care for food security, which is the more basic and
the ultimate goal, even in development endeavor? These questions are not fully answered but are surely expensively debated in West Bengal as also all over India.

There has been an overhauling experienced by the pro-Left citizens,the farmers, fish workers, academicians, intellectuals and the students. About 2000 intellectuals came to the street in support of the Singur and Nandigram struggles, every time.

The struggle and violence

When a mass rally and public meeting was held Nandigram on December 8th and corner meetings followed till night, amidst a large number of police and central to local intelligence officials, it was no doubt an exhibition of strength and confidence,
determination and commitment to save the land, water and the agriculture, the rural life but through democratic means. The people expressed lack of faith in the promise of their rehabilitation, knowing well what has happened to those displaced due to coalmines to industries, dams to urban renewal in the West Bengal and elsewhere. All the people’s organizations and political parties who were represented on the dais also questioned the uprooting of communities for changed land use, more likely to be real estate development, as is suspected by an author, in an article in People’s

The chemical industries will affect even the un-acquired farming and plantations, fish and water. The people remember the freedom movement, the Tebhaga movement-raising the
question: Did we fight for such a displacement based destructive development? Their pledge was clearly to continue with a peaceful struggle and there was militancy but no violent strategies, ever evident in many of the speeches to statements made. Yet, the violence that erupted from January 3rd and ultimately led to the killings of at least six persons, three of whom are not even been located, was unexpected. The sequence of the events as narrated by the various persons – active and not so active, activists of different social organizations and political parties have almost no discrepancy or inconsistency and hence needs to be believed in.

· During December, villagers and workers in the movement had come to know about the camps put up by the CPI (M) under the leadership and guidance of their leaders including Laxman Sheth, M.P and chairperson, HAD, Kannu Sahu and Ashok Gunja. According to people, weapons were brought in; training or at least planning was carried out in the camps, which were not in the affected area but in the area under
Khejuri Thana, (police station), the strong hold of CPI (M).

· On January 3rd, there was a news about HDA’s notice for acquisition that spread like fire, thousands of people, one estimate is 1500 plus gathered at the Panchayat office and after some minor clashes there were many rounds of firing by the police authorities. There are claims of brutal attack and for which Jehangir Alam and Barman who had lost their fingers stood to be the indicators.

· On 4th January people narrate the incident of CPI (M) workers (the Cadres, known even to a child in West Bengal) try to enter the villages by crossing the canals, from Khejuri area but it did not work. People opposed; yet without much
violence, the attempt got scuttled.

· There was an incident of vandalism at CPM office, which is said to be the result of the ire and anger amongst the masses having faced the beatings and the bullets.

· The same day, on January 4th Benoy Kumar Konar the president of All India Kisan Sabha, is known to have said to the press: “we will encircle, the villages surrounding those. We shall change the life in three Panchayats in to hell.” Will Mr.
Konar be charged of culpable action?

· In the villages, people gathered in large numbers, stopped the police and vehicles from entering the villages. Digging trenches and breaking the paths and bridges mainly did this. The same continued to be the scenario till January 12th and
even today.

· On the 6th January, outsiders in hundreds came in to the area from the opposite side of the khal in village Sonachura, may be to prepare some ground for the berserk, unwarranted violence that followed. The village was Sonachura. Things were under control till 2:30 am on January 7th. All of a sudden, 20/ 25 persons on the motor bikes made an entry with rifles as people and leaders told us, and began random firing to which at least 20 persons fell prey, got wounded or killed and collapsed. The three bodies received till now are of Bharat Mondal(18 years), Biswajit Maiti and Sheikh Salim. Chaos obviously followed, people gathered in large number even at
that late hour, since some were the watchmen themselves.

· There were around 2000 people from Sonachura and near by villages who could trace the direction, which the armed persons came from and the house of Shankar Samanto, a CPI (M) supported Panchayat member was identified as the source. The story told to us without much description by the aggrieved men and women in their villages (we could not visit Sonachura due to lack of time) that Shankar Samanto was burnt to death while hiding inside his own house.

· CPI (M) and the West Bengal Government have claimed that their cadres were attacked and killed. “No”, the people say, “those who were killed (among many many others) were the CPI (M) supporter who were active earlier but later had changed the sides and come to be a part of the movement, that has now swept almost whole of the area and population. There is no enquiry either announced or conducted till this
moment. A vague demand is made by some of the political parties to the conflict, unlike in the case of Taposhi Mallick, the young girl, who was also raped and murdered. It is only the Congress party that has made a plea of CBI inquiry in public.

We demand that an Independent Commission of Inquiry be appointed with at-least three eminent persons acceptable to all the concerned, the struggling organized affected, the government and other political parties and people’s movements. The Terms of Reference too may be drafted jointly.

The Absurd accusations, apologies…defamation

With no formal enquiry by the Judiciary or Police announced, an opportunity to defame and condemn Medha Patkar was tapped by none else than Shri Biman Basu, the CPM leader
and office bearer. Biman in a clear statement made in a specially convened press conference accused Medha of having conspired the violence, through a large yet secretive meeting held in Sonachura on December 3rd, in a 4 storied building belonging to one Shri Manosh Khatua!

He was confronted with the facts as follows:

a)On December 3rd, Medha and others were in Police custody till 10 a.m (arrested on Dec 2nd in Singur), later they all traveled to Chandannagar, met the Singur women, men and activists in the custody and in the court, she even deposed
before the lady magistrate, participated in a public rally, addressed a public meeting.

b)She never visited and has not even seen the village Sonachura.

c)There is no 4 storied building in Sonachura and belonging to Manosh Khatua. He might have two-storied old building with only a shop now.

Biman Basu apologized the next day and said he was “sorry if Medha was hurt”.The next day, however, he changed again and said Medha did visit Nandigram and the only mistake was, it was not on Dec 3rd but on December 7th. Medha had to refuse again saying she went not to Sonachura but Nandigram market and to address a public rally. A legal notice for defamation is being served to Biman Bose by the senior lawyers in Calcutta.

What Next?

But the question is what next. The Nandigram area is still tense and the people are on watch out. There are rumors now and then of ‘the cadres’ coming as if a sena is arriving.

The members of the Committee have expressed their intention to carry the struggle forward as peaceful since they know the battle is much longer. On January 12th, as we, along with Swami Agniveshji, Meher Engineer of Teachers and Scientists against Mal-Development, entered the area crossing some of the villages known to be good base of CPI (M), we reached the Hazarikata, a few kms away from Nandigram main market for a public meeting which went on till late night with public speeches through which the local leaders gave a message of ‘peace’ and perseverance. Out of about five thousand people gathered within an hour, on the day of Namaz, at least 1/3rd were women. They were not mere spectators but responding to the speeches, songs and slogans. Women’s word and worries, body language too was vocal. One cannot forget the sight of other hundreds of women with small lamps in their hands, crowding on the village paths where two more meetings were held till late night after the main meeting.

On the return path just about three kilometers away, there was a small group of 50 CPM activists standing on the roadside with equal number of red flags for protest. When
just one of them shouted ‘Go Back’, there was no response from any one else. This was a sharp contrast with the large crowd cheering and pledging at the public meeting opposing the project. It is this scenario beyond statistics that has compelled the state government to with hold but not to withdraw, even now.

The Issues are, however, more basic, as in Singur and beyond

1. The SEZ process: There is a clear violation of the procedure stipulated, even within the Act itself. With only an incomplete in principle approval as yet, acquisition can’t commence. Presuming approval and issuing notice without official seal by HAD been certainly a fraud.

2. The SEZ act and the modus operandi too is unacceptable. It provides an opportunity for the government to proceed at the initial stage, without any Social and Environmental Impact Assessment, not establishing a public purpose to acquire land and everything attached to land and without any commitment to or planning for rehabilitation; as done and legalized by the imperialist British rulers in the 19th century. This must end not only for SEZs or industrial projects but any and every
development project.

3. The Land Acquisition Act should be abolished and a new act on development planning and just rehabilitation of the minimum displaces should be brought into being.

4. Why is the agricultural land targeted for industries in general and also a large chemical hub? This is exactly opposite of what CPI(M) has asked the Prime Minister not to do in SEZ and of what the Party supports in the farmers struggles in Maharashtra and other states. No agricultural land should be transferred to industries and industrialists and SEZ Act itself should be cancelled, the CPM leaders in Maharashtra convincingly plead and assert before the affected and the agitated.

The Congress and NDA parties, on the other hand, take the farmers side in West Bengal and act with arrogance and anti-people stance wherever they are in power, may it be
Maharashtra or Gujarat.

5. Why can’t there be another chunk of wasteland, even if dispersed into 2 or more chunks found out and allotted for the industries.

6. The Left Front government has not either as a legal requirement or humane and just position conducted any benchmark survey, impact assessment nor do they have anything (but cash compensation) to offer as rehabilitation.

7. The Chemical hub on the banks of two major rivers can’t be approved without a socio-ecological cost and benefits. When the CM talks of taking people into confidence now, after deaths and destroying the relationship, he still seems to be wanting to only solely convey to the people, which will not go a long way. Is this the Left way of seeking people’s consent/participation/opinion?

Gram Sabha must be the unit as recognized under the 73rd amendment to the Constitution and without its consent, no project plan should be imposed.

8. It is very obvious that CM has acknowledged a mistake but the West Bengal Government must take a firm and fair position on Nandigram SEZ as also on development paradigm to planning process in particular.

9. In the case of Nandigram even the Government or the party leaders too can’t even pretend to have people’s consent. As PM has committed to a new rehabilitation policy CM too can wait till the new stake holders are identified.

10. The fundamental rights, to be protected by the State, can’t be trampled upon. The impingement on the private land and common property resource must be stopped immediately.

11. The party in power must stop sending their cadres for protest or protection. In the above context, we must all act fast, here and now, and compel the government to respect the people’s rights and communities. We may conclude this with an appeal and a challenge.

We again conclude and recommend that –

1. The West Bengal government must take the lead and hold a dialogue with people’s movements and political parties on the issue of Singur, Nandigram and other places.

2. Hold special Gram Sabhas and respect their verdicts in Singur, Nandigram and other places, where conflict is on.

3. An Independent Commission with eminent citizens, agreeable to both sides be constituted at the earliest for inquiry in to the violence and killings in Nandigram.

4. CPI (M) must withdraw their cadre from both Singur and Nandigram.

5. Decide not to transfer agricultural land to companies and follow the stand CPM has taken in their letter to the PM and in other states on the issue of SEZ. Recognize that agriculture, pisiculture, horticulture and agro industries are also ‘industries’ and manufacturing processes as per SEZ Act too. Hence do not kill one type of industries and culture in favor of another.

6. Compensate the human loss in Nandigram and Singur.

7. Stop propagating inadequate or wrong data and reports, claiming the farmers’ consent to the planned industrialization

8. Suspend the repressive measures as well as Land Acquisition processes with immediate effect. Withdraw or suspend the SEZ proposals/approvals till consensual decision is made.

9. Help to get LAQ Act abolished and in a new act on Development Planning be brought in.

10. Whether SEZ or not, planned industrialization in a way as to generate employment and not kill it, has to be complimentary to agriculture, to evolve consensus on priorities, technological choice and democratic planning procedures, and to ensure sustainability and manageability by assessing the social and environmental impacts.

Medha Patkar (National Convener),
Pranab Bannerjee, Sukhendu Bhattacharya (State Conveners)

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