Showing posts with label Dooars and Terai. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dooars and Terai. Show all posts

Darjeeling MP Raju Bista elected as a member of the Tea Board

5:16 PM
Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has been elected as one of the members of the Tea Board of India. When he was asked by a journalist about his further course of action after being elected, he responded as follows:

"As you are aware the Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars along with neigbouring Assam produce some of the finest tea in the world, yet this industry is gradually dying.

Numerous gardens in our region have shut down, the tea garden workers and their families are suffering, and at the same time our tea industry is facing increasing competition internationally.

 My role will be to bring together all the stakeholders – workers, government, and industry representatives to develop a possible road map for the rights of the workers to be protected, rejuvenation of the tea industry in India, and create a healthy win-win situation for everyone.

I will be pushing for a comprehensive review of the Plantation Labours Act 1951, and implementation of the Minimum Wages Act. I am sure other members also share similar sentiments, so we will all work together to make this happen."

Rs.172 - Price of blood, sweat and life of a Tea garden worker in Gorkhaland!

12:28 PM
‘All wealth is the product of labor’- John Locke 

Tea plantations of Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai encompass the two extremes of human existence, the unimaginable opulence of Tea garden owners and the abject impoverishment of workers. Behind the idyllic hills, the scenic gardens, the “romance of the two leaves and a bud”, and the “smiling faces” of the workers, what remains carefully hidden is the ugly truth of sub-human wages, more than a thousand starvation deaths, and seething anger.
Tea workers in Gorkhaland

The ongoing wage negotiations for tea gardens in the Hills, Dooars & Terai has yet again brought to fore what the West Bengal government and the industry wishes to brush under the carpet. It is another manifestation of the complicity of the state in depriving the workers of their basic minimum level of sustenance. Darjeeling tea derived its value (even has its own Geographical Indication-GI mark) from its qualitative excellence and high exportability. Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai produces one of finest and most sought after tea in the international market (Iran, Japan, UK, Russia, UAE). Such is the demand for Darjeeling tea that in the year 2016 the finest quality of Darjeeling tea was sold at Rs 1.12 lakh per kg. Tea industry makes valuable contribution to both Central and State Government coffers by way of different Central and State taxes. The West Bengal State enjoys approximately 1500 crores of revenue generated from tea gardens annually along with the revenue from tea tourism, forest, hydel project etc. However, the contributions of the tea garden workers have been rewarded by hardship, struggle, denial of basic rights, untimely medical facilities, forced lockdown of tea gardens and starvation deaths. This perennial appalling condition has compelled the workers of 273 tea gardens to hit the streets and raise their voice for higher wages. Examining the closest history, the wage of workers’ was Rs.45 per day in 2001, Rs. 90 per day in 2010 and Rs.95 per day in 2011. After repeated pressure from workers trade unions, it was increased to Rs 132.50 in 2016. In February 2018, the wage was decided upon as Rs 150/day. However, following the disagreements and protests from the tea gardens workers trade unions, the planters agreed to increase the wage only to Rs 172 per day on 5th August 2018, which the workers have out rightly rejected.

How low is the wage rate in tea gardens?
First, workers of Darjeeling, Dooars, Tarai and Assam are paid the lowest wage among all tea plantations located in India. Eg. Tamil Nadu pays Rs. 303, Karnataka pays Rs 317 while Kerala pays Rs. 600 per day. Ironically tea produced from these locations are not much demanded in international market and fetches low price, even then the tea garden owners are able to pay decent wages more than that of Darjeeling. Secondly, wages of tea garden workers of Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai is even lower than the government mandated minimum wages in similar occupations in West Bengal. The recently proposed wage rate by the planters and state government for the tea garden workers of Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai is Rs 172, which is even lower than minimum wage paid in Cinchona plantation located in the same region (Rs. 211), in Beedi leaf plucking (Rs. 255), in Agriculture (Rs 278). Thirdly, the money wage was Rs 90 in 2010 and it was proposed to be hiked to Rs 172 on 5th August, 2018. However, if we take into account the rising living expenses (due to rising prices over time-inflation), the real wage (what money wage is able to buy in terms of goods and services) hike is miniscule in terms of purchasing power. For e.g. the goods and services, which could be purchased using Rs. 90 in 2010, will cost Rs.141 in 2018. Even Rs.90 in 2010 was the lowest wage received by workers among workers in other industries during that time. This implies that workers until last year (Rs 132.5 in 2017) were not even getting wage, which could buy same amount of goods they used to buy with Rs. 90 in 2010. Similarly, Rs 172 of 2018 will only buy the same amount of goods what workers could have bought with Rs.109 in 2010. This means that the wage hike proposed by planters is very low if we take into account the rising daily expenses of tea garden workers. Workers are demanding Rs 239.82 as minimum wage, which is just equal to the purchasing power of Rs 152 of 2010. The minimum wage of Rs 239.82 is not even 40% of minimum wage of tea garden workers in Kerala. In an era where LPG refilling costs around Rs 1000, the tea garden workers are bound to survive on a monthly average income of Rs 5000. Since, tea garden is the main source of income for the families, it is beyond impossible to maintain a decent livelihood with such a minimum wage leading intergenerational poverty trap. Contrary to this deplorable condition of workers, the CEO of a tea company (Goodricke Group Limited, Annual Report, 2017-18) has a salary scale of Rs. 4-7 lakhs per month with additional Rs. 50,000 special allowance per month.
What do various reports say? Nearly 1500 tea plantation workers of Dooars and Terai have died due to starvation in the last ten years. According to the state government’s Labour Department Survey (2013) report, nearly Rs 47 crore rupees of provident fund was unpaid to workers in 75 tea gardens in 2013. Around 80% of the gardens had no medical staff and most of the gardens had no access to basic health facilities. The International Labour Organisation in its 2005 report clearly states that the Tea Board, which is the regulating authority of the Tea Industry, has failed to fulfill its stipulated function. They have continuously ignored wage and provident fund defaults of tea gardens, while portraying this crisis only as a marketing mismanagement. The ILO report also suspects that there is collusion between the planters and the State, which is highlighted by the non-implementation of the Tea Act, 1953. Studies show that 70% of the people of the closed tea gardens suffer from chronic energy deficiency III stage. The scale of deprivation and dispossession of livelihoods is such that the workers are forced to languish till they die of hunger and malnutrition. The Supreme Court’s order (dated 06.08.10) categorically asked the Government of India to carry out its statutory duty under Tea Act 1953. This allows the central government to take over the management/control of sick tea gardens (under section 16 B/D/E of the Act) and take steps thereafter to ensure that the interest of the workers are well protected and dues are all paid in time but such clauses never get invoked to protect the interest of the workers. Such low wages and exploitative conditions have resulted in large migration of workers from the tea estate. Human trafficking is also very rampant in the region. A report of a joint study by Unicef, Save the Children and Burdwan University (in 2010) estimates around 3,500 minors alone were trafficked from 12 gardens of Dooars alone.

We reject the recent offers by the Planters and Government of abysmally low wage hike from Rs.150 to Rs. 172.
We demand: 1. Declare and implement decent Minimum Wage for tea Plantation workers equivalent to that of state of Kerala 2. Grant legal ownership of land rights to workers 3. Reopen closed and abandoned tea estates immediately 4. Casual labour in tea gardens should be regularised as soon as possible 5. Backlog of unpaid provident fund and gratuity should be cleared immediately. We salute and stand in solidarity with the uncompromising struggle of workers for their rightful demand. Any attempt to break the unity of the workers or dilute the demands or betray the struggle must be resisted at all cost.

Gorkha Students, JNU Issued on 13/08/18

GNLF TO SUPPORT TMC IN DOOARS FOR PANCHAYAT ELECTION

11:12 AM

Like GJM , GNLF too decided to support TMC at the upcoming Panchayat election in Dooars.After 21 days of GJM announcement to support TMC from Bagrakot.  GNLF too announced their support to TMC from Bagrakot yesterday.

Later GNLF president Mann Ghisingh, General Secretary Mahendra Chettri along with TMC leader Saurav Chakraborty , Mohan Sharma , MLA Buluchik Baraik held a joint press conference at Mal bazar. Speaking with the press Mahendra Chettri said GNLF keeping positive thought  has come forward to support TMC at the upcoming Panchayat election.

Chettri further said we have come to Dooars to keep our stand clear that at the upcoming Panchayat election GNLF will support TMC at Dooars. Chettri also claimed that they have a good support of gorkhas residing at Alipurduwar and Jalpaiguri district

Via C24

Darjeeling Likely to Witness Another Agitation

11:46 AM
gjm
Darjeeling Likely to Witness Another Agitation From May 1

In an interview given to the Himalayan Beacon, published on Tuesday, CITU has declared that they would be launching an agitation for the workers of Darjeeling, Terai and Duars from May 1. The agitation, however, will mostly focus on the demands of the tea garden and hotel workers. This can be perceived as an affront to the Darjeeling-based Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). This faction had earlier declared that the hills will not witness any more strikes. However, the workers’ agitation will most probably be too prickly for the faction to handle, considering that they form the core base of voters in the hills.

As far as the tea garden workers are concerned CITU has three demands; that the workers be brought under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, that they should receive the ration money owed to them, and that they should receive land rights.

Tea gardens are not one of the Scheduled Employments in West Bengal under the Minimum Wages Act. The issue of the tea garden workers began in 2014 when they had agitated to be brought under the Minimum Wages Act. In 2015, a tripartite agreement was signed between the workers’ unions, the owners’ union and the West Bengal Government. The agreement stipulated a gradual increase in the minimum wage over a period of three years. In 2017 another meeting was called to revise the minimum wages agreed to in 2015, other than the Trinamool Congress affiliated unions, all the others stayed away in protest against the move. CITU in the interview has alleged that three years since the first agreement was signed, the workers are yet to receive the agreed minimum wages. This also ties into their demand that the ration money owed to workers be paid. As a result, they demand that the entire amount owed to the workers be paid, and that tea gardens also come under the Act.

The issue of land rights is another sore point. According to the CITU representative, the provisions of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, has not been extended to the tea garden workers. When the tea gardens were first established in Darjeeling, the colonial planters had secured large areas of forest which they converted into plantations. However, not all the area claimed by the gardens has been cleared. It is in these forested parts where the workers have established their homes. Thus generations of tea garden workers have lived on these lands. On this basis, after the 2006 Act came into force, the workers were entitled to hold title over the land on which they live.

The issues highlighted by the CITU representative for the hospitality industry workers focused on; wages for the period of the 2017 agitation, that benefits such as gratuity, provident fund, employees state insurance, and health insurance be extended to them and that they should be able to avail leave on government holidays. Here too, they had launched a movement in 2015, seeking that minimum wages be fixed based on the type ofestablishment – a small restaurant would pay less than a five-star hotel. The movement resulted in a bipartite agreement with the hotel owners’ association. However, the agreement has yet to be implemented. In this regard, the CITU representative has declared expanded demands for the hospitality industry workers.

The CITU representative also mentioned that though the agitation at present is focused on the plight of the tea garden and hospitality industry workers, the agitation would be for the rights of all the workers in the region. He specifically mentioned the hospital staff, construction workers and migrant workers in this regard. He also stated that the unions had submitted memorandums to the concerned owners and that the memorandums contained an ultimatum that unless their demands are met, they would launch an agitation from May 1 till the end of July. This point is significant since the agitation would cripple the tourism industry.

The Binay Tamang – Anit Thapa faction of the GJM has stated that they are pro-business and would not allow any agitations or strikes in the hills. However, they appear to have forgotten the origins of the GJM’s founder, Bimal Gurung. Gurung came from a family of tea garden workers. His residence and the nucleus of the GJM’s power lay in Patleybas, a notoriously poor and rough neighbourhood on the fringes of Darjeeling. One of Gurung’s most popular moves among the tea garden workers in the Darjeeling hills was in 2011 when he was able to secure a raise in their wages. Prior to his intervention, the workers were getting Rs. 67 per day, he was, however, able to raise it to Rs. 90. This worked out as an increase of around 34 percent. At present, the agitation that has been threatened seeks to raise this wage further.

Chances are that the Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction will intervene at least in the hills to prevent the agitation from taking place. In the Dooars and Terai, the Bimal Gurung faction still holds sway, it is unlikely that they would miss an opportunity to bring their rival faction down a peg. If the matter is not resolved by May 1, Darjeeling will lose another year of tourism revenue. However, this clearly appears to be a gamble the workers are willing to risk

GJM to support TMC in Dooars

7:15 AM
TMC

Darjeeling: In a major setback for the BJP, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) on Thursday announced its decision to forge an alliance with the Trinamool Congress in the forthcoming Panchayat elections, in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts. This comes on the heels of Kamtapur Progressive Party (KPP) also throwing its weight behind the TMC in Dooars for the rural polls. The day saw a core committee and working committee meeting of GJM at Bagrakote in Jalpaiguri, from where this new political equation has emerged.

"We have decided to forge an alliance with the TMC in the two districts of Dooars for the rural polls. We will support TMC candidates in some Panchayats and in our strongholds, we will field independent candidates. A four-member GJM team will be visiting Dooars soon, to negotiate with TMC on seat sharing," stated Suraj Sharma, GJM Spokesperson. GJM top brass, including president Binay Tamang, was present in the meeting. When questioned on why the GJM decided to leave the BJP fold, Sharma stated: "BJP has let down the Gorkhas. There arenumerous instances of this. They have never been serious about the Gorkhas and have just used us for securing seats during elections."

He further stated that while the BJP-led Union government had called for a report within 3 hours of the recent Ranigunj strife, it remained a mere spectator during the 2017 unrest in Darjeeling and the 104-day-long bandh. "Whereas Mamata Banerjee has helped restore peace and normalcy in the Hills. We want Dooars to benefit also," added Sharma. The GJM has strongholds in several areas of Dooars.

Solidarity from Gorkha Students, JNU for tea garden workers

10:26 AM

A statement of solidarity from Gorkha Students, JNU to the protesting tea garden workers for their minimum wage

All tea workers unions from Darjeeling, Dooars and Tarai under the broad banner of Joint Forum have decided to go for a 48 hour strike in Bengal against the exploitation of tea garden owners of Bengal, who are living in deplorable condition with less than minimum wage which is insufficient to live a dignified life. It is co-incidentally at the same time when the people of Gorkhaland are struggling against the oppressive linguistic imposition of the Bengal government on the indigenous people of the land.  The Hills, Terai and Dooars of Gorkhaland are gripped in seething angst when it is forced to witness the misery of its own people in the form of hunger and starvation deaths. It is outrageous to see the workers of a multi-million industry (tea plantation) dying a slow and painful death due to hunger and starvation. The irony of this situation is lies in the presence of stark poverty, chronic hunger and exploitation along-side the colossal profits these tea-gardens generate for the owners and the State. According to an estimate by the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce, tea industry in the hills generates an average of Rs. 450 crores revenue annually, equal to that of the tourism industry in the region. Absence of workers’ rights, non-payment of minimum wages and benefits is not specific to the tea-industry alone but is rather a persistent feature of work in the highly segment labour-market in India. However, it is pertinent to highlight here the starkly Regional Aspects of Discrimination that lies so strongly visible in the tea industry. The minimum wage paid to unskilled tea labour in Kerala is Rs.301, in Assam it is Rs.158.54, in neighbouring Sikkim it is Rs. 200 while the same in Darjeeling comes to a meagre Rs.112. Even the minimum wage paid in West Bengal for MGNREGA is around Rs. 130-151 and for agricultural laborer is Rs. 206 per day. The tea workers in North Bengal are thus made to work for wages which is far below the minimum in any form of work. It is very shrewd on the part of the owners to claim low wages are due to low price being earned from the sales of tea leaves produced from these gardens. If this be the case then why the wages of workers remains same in those tea gardens which fetches the highest price in the world tea market( for instance Rs. 1.1 lakhs per kg of tea is produced by Makaibari tea garden but wages remain still at Rs.112).
In the last decade more than 1400 tea workers have died due to acute malnutrition and starvation. As recent as January 2013, 95 workers of the locked out Dheklapara Tea Estate in Dooars sent a letter to the Chief Minister of West-Bengal seeking her “order” to kill themselves because they were suffering from acute starvation. The tea workers therefore are forced to languish till they die of hunger and malnutrition. Studies show that 70% of the people of the closed tea gardens suffer from chronic energy deficiency III stage. In the gardens affected by starvation death like Red Bank, Bandapani, Diana and Kathalguri tea gardens, it was found that workers and their families have Body Mass Index (BMI) identical to those populations affected by severe famine.
The starvation death in the tea gardens, the crushing of the identity of the Gorkhas and other minorities and the denial of basic rights to oppressed communities in Bengal has been a phenomenon for centuries in Bengal. The hegemonic forces are united to crush every single voice of dissent and so now the time has come that the oppressed be united to fight against this domination for a better tomorrow.
At this hour of crisis, Gorkha Students, JNU stands in full support with the tea garden workers and the Gorkha people in their struggle for dignity, self-respect and a better life. When Oppressors are always united and consolidated, it is a historic responsibility on our shoulders to unite and fight for a just and egalitarian society!
We also demand that:
1. Closed and abandoned tea estates be reopened immediately.
2. Stop privatisation of government operated tea gardens.
3. Declare and implement Minimum Wage for tea plantation workers.
4. Grant legal ownership of housing space to workers
5. Casual labour should also be brought under the purview of Plantation Labour Act, 1951.
6. Backlog of unpaid Provident fund and gratuity should be cleared without delay.

Gorkha Students, JNU

Bengali optional in hills: CM Mamata Banerjee

4:48 PM

-BIRESWAR BANERJEE

Mirik, June 5: Mamata Banerjee today said Bengali would not be compulsory at schools in the Darjeeling hills and in certain areas of the Dooars and the Terai.

The chief minister's about-turn is perceived to be aimed at meeting the twin objectives of soothing the frayed nerves in the hills and retaining the advantage Trinamul had made in recent civic polls.

Despite Mamata's announcement, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha said it would continue to hold processions across the hills till June 8 on the language issue.

Mamata made the announcement at a government programme here amidst an agitation launched by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on the language issue.

"Some persons here are playing politics and trying to divide people. The GTA elections are ahead and as they lack a proper issue, they are spreading rumours. We want to make it clear that Bengali will not be a compulsory language in the hills and in some parts of the Terai and the Dooars," Mamata said.

After the state government had made public its plan to make learning of Bengali compulsory at schools, Mamata and education minister Partha Chatterjee said the decision would be applicable to the hills as well.

However, the chief minister made a U-turn in Mirik today and said Bengali would be the fourth language in the hills.

"If Bengalis can read Nepali, then why can't Gorkhas read Bengali? We want to keep Bengali as an optional language as students in the hills need to know Bengali. In due course, when they will move out to other parts of the state for jobs, this learning will help them. It will be an optional language here," she said.

The change in the decision, observers said, was necessary to ensure that the hills did not shun Trinamul that had just won Mirik municipality and some seats in three other hill civic bodies.

"The decision had led to protests in the hills and the Morcha that was a bit upset after losing Mirik to Trinamul got a pertinent issue to revive its support base. After today's announcement, the situation has again become favourable for Trinamul," an observer said.

Mamata also said the state government would audit the spending of funds by the GTA that is administered by the Morcha.

(Via:Telegraph )

Darjeeling MP SS Alhuwalia Writes to PM Modi against Mamata's repressive and arbitrary order

11:45 AM

BREAKING: Darjeeling MP SS Alhuwalia Writes to PM Modi;  Seeks immediate intervention to end the "draconian emergency-like measures undertaken by the Mamata Banerjee government"

Taking strong exception to the filing of FIRs against Sahita Academy Award winners and heads of reputed schools in the hills by the police, Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia has written to PM Narendra Modi asking for his "immediate intervention to ensure that people of Darjeeling as well as North Bengal are saved from the draconian emergency-like measures undertaken by the Mamata Banerjee government." 

Here is the text of the letter released to the Press by his office...

"Respected Modi ji,

I am writing this letter to you in great anguish and in great urgency from Oslo, as I feel that your intervention is immediately needed to ensure that people of Darjeeling as well as North Bengal are saved from the draconian emergency-like measures undertaken by the Mamata Banerjee government to stifle the voices of dissent being raised in Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars against her repressive and arbitrary order q.

On 16th of May, 2017 West Bengal Chief Minister Miss Mamata Banerjee announced that Bengal would adopt a three-language policy and that Bengali language will be made compulsory in schools. Miss Mamata Banerjee had posted on her Facebook profile that “If the student chooses Bengali, Hindi, English, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Nepali, Alchiki as a first language, he/she may opt for two other languages of their choice. One of the three languages would have to be Bengali. The two other choices are completely dependent on what the student chooses.”

In the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars most students opt for Nepali/Hindi as their first language and English as the second language and those inclined to learn more languages opt for Hindi/Nepali as their third language. Students who want to learn Bengali are allowed to do so with no hindrance whatsoever and every year almost all the schools across the hills have students who complete their education with Bengali as their second language. However, making Bengali compulsory would mean that these students would not have any choice on which language they want to learn and their right to choose - a fundamental right under our constitution - is taken away from them.

Imposition of Bengali language even as a third BUT compulsory language will mean they have to forgo learning either English ( a language necessary for employment opportunities), Hindi (Our National Language, one that binds all people of this Nation together, as well as being a language for opportunities throughout India) or their respective mother tongues ( the language that binds people, especially those from the minorities, with their identity, history and culture, and without which, they are put on the path of losing their link with their heritage) , sacrificing it in favour of the Bengali language.

Following this, the linguistic minority communities within Bengal started to voice in their dissent and questioned the intent of such a move. Among the linguistic minority communities who live in Bengal, the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars is home to one of the most linguistically diverse regions in India. Among three major non-Bengali communities who live in these regions, Nepali, which is one of the recognized National Languages of India under the VIIIth schedule of our Constitution, is the lingua franca of the Gorkha community; Kamtapuri is the mother tongue for Rajbanshi community; and, the Adivasi community in my region speak Hindi, Kurukh, Sadri, Santhali, Nepali, and other languages/dialects.

On the 30th of May, 2016 the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is a valued alliance partner of National Democratic Alliance, held a “Samiksha Sabha” to discuss the implications of compulsory imposition of Bengali language. This meeting was attended by eminent personalities from the Nepali academia, including Shahitya Academy Award winners Shri Jiwan Namdung and Shri Prem Pradhan, representatives of top schools in the hills, like St Paul's School, St Joseph's School (North Point), St. Roberts School, Vidhya Vikash Academy, among others, along with Shri Bimal Gurung, President of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Chief of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. The meeting concluded with these eminent personalities opposing the compulsory imposition of Bengali language among the linguistic minority communities, and they agreed to register their protest by calling for a two day voluntary closure of educational institutions (on 1st and 2nd of June) in the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region.

The bandh, I have been informed has been completely voluntary, peaceful, and thus successful today.

In retaliation, the Darjeeling District Administration at the behest of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has, however, filed an FIR against all the eminent people who had attended the meeting on May 30th. The FIR registered by the Inspector-in-Charge of Sadar Police Station, Darjeeling, Shri Saumyajit Roy, alleges these good people of “conspiring against the state.”, and carries the corresponding. relevant sections of the IPC.

My constituents fear that filing FIRs against these eminent personalities is just the beginning of an oppressive, authoritarian, despotic, and tyrannical regime unleashed by the Bengal government through the district administration to stifle the voices of concern and love for one’s mother tongue.

Sir, given all of the above, I humbly request you to kindly intervene and help to ensure that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of our nation, which are guaranteed to people from every part of West Bengal, along with the rest of the nation, are not trampled upon by Mamata Banerjee led government in West Bengal.

I urge you to help my constituents in raising their voice against such draconian and dictatorial measures adopted by the Bengal government by extending your solidarity and support to them.

I look forward to your kind support and earliest intervention.

Thanking You,
With Warm Regards,
SS Ahluwalia"

 
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