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Churning the earth: The making of global India – Ashish Kothari talks about his recent work at a book release event in Udaipur, Rajasthan

At a book release event organised jointly by Dr Mohan Singh Mehta Memorial Trust (MSMMT) and Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), Udaipur on 23 March 2013 at Vidhya Bhawan Auditorium, Udaipur, Ashish Kothari, founder of the environmental group Kalpavriksh spoke on his recent work ”Churning the earth: The making of global India”. Co-authored with Aseem Shrivastava and launched in May 2012, the book presents evidence on the predatory nature of India’s economic rise and questions its political and ecological sustainability.

The book urges a “fundamental shift towards a range of policy, grassroots and conceptual alternatives that are necessary to forestall the descent into sociological chaos”. Amitav Ghosh in an advance praise of the book notes that it “cuts through the hype to tell you what is going on… the only work I know of that provides a comprehensive account of the enormous social and environmental costs of the developments of the last fifteen years… substantiated with a great deal of data”.

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Experiences from a civil society initiative to restore stretches of toxic Yamuna: Report of a conference organised by PEACE, Thames River Restoration Trust and WWF India at New Delhi in March 2013

The Thames River Restoration Trust, UK, WWF-India and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, Delhi held a conference on “Sharing experiences and lessons learnt from the Thames and Ganga Twinning Project” on March 1, 2013 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

Dr Peter Spillet of the Thames River Restoration Trust shared that the Trust was the recipient of the 2010 Theiss International Riverprize funds on behalf of many organizations involved in the restoration work on river Thames in United Kingdom. He said that the Trust had shared the money for twinning projects in various countries including in India.

This conference presents the results of the 2011-13 twinning programme. The Trust collaborated with PEACE and WWF to work with local communities working on Yamuna river restoration, he said.

Dr Ashghar Nawab, Senior Projects Coordinator, WWF-India noted that they ran the project on the Upper Ganges river at the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh to re-introduce the endangered Gharial and other wildlife there and in the lower Yamuna river area. At the same time they helped local people improve their agricultural practices to improve their standard of living.

The long term plan was to ensure a viable population of Gharial with a favourable habitat through increased capacity support from the local communities. The project was to benefit fish population, freshwater turtles, Ganges river dolphins and other riverine species in the lower Yamuna river such as otters and water birds, he said.

Field survey

Intensive field surveys were conducted to monitor species diversity and evaluate threats to habitat (Image courtesy: WWF-India)

In the stretch between Bateshwar Ghat, Agra to Dibholi Ghat, Etawah the frontline forest staff was trained in monitoring and assessing the Gharial population and habitat, thereby transferring WWF-India expertise in this field to the Forest Department.


Female Gharial recorded with about 18 hatchlings; this is the first record of Gharial ‘nesting’ in river Yamuna (Image courtesy: WWF-India)

In this project, work was done with the local communities to reduce dependency on river resources. Alternative livelihood options were provided by creating links with government village development schemes. Local Youth Conservation Forum was built to instill a sense of ownership for the protection of the species.

Dr Nawab stated that biodiversity conservation was inextricably linked to the protection of habitat in terms of availability of prey and suitable sites for shelter. Biodiversity recorded represents endangered species like the Ganges Dolphin, Gharial and the black-necked Stork. Peripheral areas of the National Chambal Sanctuary fall in the Yamuna, which are used as seasonal migratory routes by endangered species like Gharial.


Small population of Ganges river dolphin were observed near Pathewara village, Hamirpur (Image courtesy: S R Taigore)

Such habitats maybe recognized or proposed as conservation units needing effective protection measures on urgent basis. Technical assistance is being provided to the Forest Department in the development of a Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan for Yamuna. Riparian communities with stake in long term future of freshwater species and habitats across the region must be fully engaged in the development and conservation planning processes. This will help assure the future sustainability of associated livelihoods and the ecosystem services provided by fully functioning freshwater ecosystems.

Manoj Misra stated that PEACE’s work on the river Yamuna has evolved, and the partnership with TRRT and WWF-India is a part of this process. It started with devising and testing a People’s River Health Index (PRHI) in 2010 supported by a two-year grant from the UNDP-SGP. Findings from the PRHI project became the activities under the Twinning Project. The activities were spread over ten grids along the river Yamuna.

Nadi Mitra Mandalis (NMMs) were set up as formal registered societies at each grid and acted as instruments for action addressing the “non point” threats to the river. The focus of the project was on promotion of natural or organic farming, improved sanitation and waste water management, solid and farm refuse management, catchment restoration, river and village health assessment, institutional strengthening and outreach to school children.  

Activities taken up included development of plantation, recharge well, pond and well restoration, solar lamps, eco-san toilets and repair of village drains. 6,000 trees have been planted along the river at ten locations. Monthly monitoring of river health (water quality, quantity and biodiversity) and village health parameters was being done at all the grids by the NMMs.

Dave Wardle, Twinning Project Chairman discussed the work of the Thames River Restoration Trust in improving the biologically dead river. He provided an account of how the Thames system suffered from problems such as pollution, physical alteration, low water flows and loss of wildlife habitat. The work of the Trust in improving the Thames system was discussed. He shared how TRRT helped restore the Thames and its tributaries through its policy lobbying work and by helping produce the Thames River Basin Management Plan, London Rivers Action Plan and Thames Water Resources Plan. The river is as free of pollution as possible and has been able to meet water quality standards.


Thames river (Image courtesy: Thames River Restoration Trust)

Dr. Robert Oates, Director of the Thames River Restoration Trust stated that significant stretches of the river have been restored to a natural structure, to enable functioning natural processes and sustainable ecosystems.

The technical sessions led by Bhim Rawat and Sita Ram Taigor of PEACE along with representatives of the Nadi Mitra Mandalis elaborated on the activities taken up in each grid and the experiences therein. 

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River restoration techniques - Presentation by Manoj Misra, PEACE (2013)7.55 MB
International river prize - Presentation by Dave Wardle, TRRT (2013)13.92 MB
Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in river Yamuna - Presentation by Asghar Nawab, WWF India (2013)12.93 MB
Thames Ganga Twinning Project - Presentation by Peter Spillett, TRRT (2013)2.58 MB
Bateshwer grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.55 MB
Ekdala grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.59 MB
Gadaya grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.66 MB
Hamirpur grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)7.02 MB
Kanalsi grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)15.99 MB
Katapathar grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)13.23 MB
Kharadi grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)8.22 MB
Oba grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)8.03 MB
Pachnada grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.04 MB
Ramra grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)10.37 MB

Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme given near-exclusive priority in 12th five year plan, but will it solve India’s water problems?

Guest post: Amita Bhaduri

There is a palpable sense of a looming water crisis in India. Conflicts across competing users and uses are on the rise. In the irrigation sector, it is widely felt that “paucity of resources and poor performance of existing major and medium irrigation systems are the two main problems”(1). More recently, the sector has been faced with a spate of allegations of poor irrigation facilities created at inflated costs resulting in demands for a realistic assessment of its various programmes.

This article gets into the nitty gritty of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), a programme specially initiated by the Government of India in 1996 to provide financial assistance to the States to complete various ongoing multipurpose and irrigation projects in the country. The scheme aimed to create irrigation potential of the projects and thereby to extend irrigation sources (major, medium and minor) to more areas.

It was extended subsequently to cover surface water minor irrigation projects in special category States such as in the North East, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and such projects satisfying specified criteria in some other States. 

This review looks at the changes in the AIBP programme over time and whether the created irrigation potential under the programme has been fully utilized. It attempts to find out if the programme has been successful in building water infrastructure and institutions and if this has helped in poverty reduction in the irrigated regions.

SRSP dam

Pochampad dam, Sri Ram Sagar Project, Andhra Pradesh; Phase II of the project is being funded under AIBP

Image: Amita Bhaduri, March 2010

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Refugees of the Kosi embankments – A booklet by Dinesh Kumar Mishra

KosiThis booklet by Dinesh Kumar Mishra deals with the plight of the refugees of the Kosi embankment. Kosi, one of the most vibrant rivers of North Bihar begins its journey at a height of about 7000 m in the Himalayan range. After entering the plains, the bed of the Kosi widens drastically and it spreads over 6 to 10 km.

In 1953 the Government of India gave formal approval to the Kosi project, which led to the construction of 125 km long embankment on the eastern bank of the Kosi, from Birpur to Kopadia and 126 km long embankment from Bhardah in Nepal to Ghonghepur in Saharsa, on the western bank. The work was almost fully completed by 1959.

The embankments were supposed to protect 214,000 ha of land from the recurring floods of the Kosi. A barrage across the river was also constructed near Birpur in 1963 to facilitate irrigation of 712, 000 ha, through Eastern Kosi Main Canal. Another canal, called the Western Kosi Canal, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1957, is also being constructed to irrigate some 325,000 ha of crop land on the western side of the barrage. The work on this canal is still in progress.

With the completion of embankments on the Kosi in 1963, a population of nearly 192,000 were trapped in 304 villages between the two embankments of the Kosi. This number had swollen to 9,88,000 (2001 census) and the number of villages gone to 380 because of the extension of embankments. This population is scattered over 4 districts and 13 blocks.

Rehabilitation of these unfortunate people was not incorporated in the original plan of the project when the approval of the project was given in 1953. The rehabilitation issue of these entrapped people came for discussion only in 1956 after the construction started in 1955. They are living in primitive conditions ever since and their plight cannot be understood without physically seeing their living conditions.

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Refugees of Kosi embankments - A booklet by Dinesh Kumar Mishra52.93 MB
Na ghat na ghar: Kosi punarwas ka kahar - A booklet in Hindi by Dinesh Kumar Mishra48.84 MB

Biomimicry: Nature inspired innovations in buildings & processes for a sustainable living

Biomimicry is a science that studies nature’s models, imitates or takes inspiration from them and shapes designs and processes that help reduce source depletion.

Learning from nature, a master craftsmen, that has been evolving for millions of years, we can create efficient, living buildings, learn to use sunlight and recycle energy, reduce pollution and be in tune with our environment!


From the Greek bios, life, and mimesis, imitation comes the word-biomimicry ( Image courtesy: )

By looking upon nature as a role model, a sustainable measure and a mentor, we can reshape our thinking, and find innovative answers to many problems. By valuing nature’s models and imitating them; designers today are beginning to shape buildings and design unconventional processes.

Nature has very specific ways for dealing with conservation during times of scarcity. Grass becomes dormant during droughts, birds conserve food. Animals and plants too have an intrinsic ability to monitor and self-regulate. Thinkers today are regrouping to find a way to learn and adapt from these natural phenomenon around them.

Water being a finite source, a biomimetic approach for encouraging responsible water usage can have a major impact. In urban water consumption nature can inspire relevant, everyday solutions for city inhabitants to conserve water. A New York-based team ‘Smart Design’ took up the IBM Biomimicry challenge and worked on this concept and come up with suggestions for water conservation, inspired from ecosystems.

How sensitivity to water consumption & conservation can be enhanced: IBM Biometric challenge ( Source:

They created the Heartbeat Faucet, which provides feedback by pulsing after dispensing water. This metered pulse allows users to see and feel how much water they are using each time they turn on the faucet, informing everyone in the household about their behaviour. They also developed a program that would track the building's water and give a community reward, if water consumption came in below a set target.

Another nature inspired idea was the creation of MicroParks, tiny greenspaces throughout the city. The' MicroParks' water feed could be manipulated to reflect the cities future water supply--a lush MicroPark communicated a healthy water supply and a withering MicroPark let residents know that conservation is critical. These miniature green spaces act in a similar manner to rivers and streams , where one could see the physical condition of the water sources and connect with it, making behavior-changing connections in a positive way.

Buildings too need to be a living organism, where all systems are interconnected for maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact. It should be compatible with the natural surroundings, harvest its water and energy needs on site, operate pollution free, be locally relevant and generate any waste that cannot be reused in the immediate environment.

Qatars cactus building

Energy efficient catus inspired building in Qatar ( Courtesy:

In Qatar a new office building takes the form of a towering cactus, designed to be energy efficient and utilizing sun shades on its windows. Depending on the intensity of the sun during the day, the sun shades can open or close to keep out the heat. This is similar to how a cactus chooses to perform transpiration at night rather during the day in order to retain water – another great example of biomimicry.

Termite inspired building

Termite inspired office in Harare, Zimbabwe, with no air conditioning ( Courtesy:

Another wonderful example is a mid-rise building in Harare, Zimbabwe that has no air-conditioning, yet stays cool thanks to a termite-inspired ventilation system. It is modelled on the self-cooling mounds termites that maintain the temperature inside their nest to within one degree of 31 °C, day and night, while the external temperature varies between 3 °C and 42 °C. The building uses only 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building its size, and has saved 3.5 million in air conditioning costs in the first five years.

The more our world functions like the natural world, and we apply designs inspired from nature, the more likely we are to solve man made problems in a sustainable manner.

For more information on Biomimicry

What is Biomimicry? Click here

An example of application of Biomimicry, click here 

A book on Biomimicry in Architecture, click here

 Biomimetic Architecture, click here

Papers on biomimicry, click here and here

Water in India: Situation and prospects – Book release by UNICEF, FAO and SaciWaters

New indices are needed to measure available water resources, says a report on the state of the water sector in India, entitled Water in India: Situation and Prospects by UNICEF, FAO and SaciWATERS. The report released at UNDP, New Delhi on February 14, 2013 attempts to consolidate the significant amounts of information available on water and sanitation in India and also aims to examine the key current challenges in the sector; both the threats and opportunities for the water sector in India.

Dr Aidan Cronin, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist, UNICEF gives a sneak preview to the report

Video courtesy: UNICEF

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Living on water: An architect constructs homes, offices and even a golf course as floating buildings, using water as a workable layer

Imagine looking out of your window onto the blue sea, living in a building in the midst of water! Koen Olthius, a Dutch architect’s passion for water has transformed this magical image into reality.

Water is the latest frontier to act as a habitable space. Koen Olthius, an architect, creates floating buildings in water that are both flexible , sustainable and practical. He has found a solution that helps cities to respond flexibly to climate change and urbanisation.

Floating apartment Complex, Amsterdam

Floating apartment complex, Amsterdam ( Image courtesy: www.waterstudio)

His water based structures float on concrete and foam foundations that are stable and heavy. These bodies are then connected to the sea bed with cables, so that they are anchored and don’t drift away.

Golf course in Maldives

Floating golf course in Maldives ( Image courtesy:

His vision of such large scale floating projects in an urban environment opens up the door for endless possibilities. With 90 % of the worlds cities located on the waterfront, this innovative strategy will help people to respond positively to scarcity of urban land and space.

Sea Tree

Sea Tree: A floating park ( Image courtesy: www.waterstudio)

His firm ‘Water Studio’ specialises in architecture, urban planning and research related to living, working and recreation on water. Some of the projects already commissioned and developed include: Sea Tree: a floating park, a haven for wildlife and marine life; White Lagoon: A watervilla with beaches, roof terrace and swimming pools, the future of tourism.

Glass Tunnel Golf Course

Glass tunnel golf course ( Image courtesy: www.waterstudio)

Korail in Bangladesh, houses the largest wetslum in Dhaka, where a population of 40,000 inhabitants  jostle for space. Streets are used for public functions, as playgrounds and even restaurants. The needs of sanitation, toilets and garbage disposal will be met by installing containers on floating foundations in this project, which aims at upgrading this wetland as shown in the video below.

Source of video: waterstudionl


Upgradation of wetslum in Korail, Bangladesh, by using floating foundations ( Courtesy : waterstudionl)

With expected rising sea levels, these projects promise to keep buildings and hopes, both afloat !

To read the complete article, please click here.

For more videos on floating buildings by Waterstudio, please click here.

Everything you wanted to know about rivers in India - Compilation of all videos from the "Living rivers, dying rivers" series of talks organised by India International Centre and Centre for Policy Research at New Delhi over 2011-12

The India International Centre launched a series of talks titled ‘Living Rivers, Dying Rivers’ in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research. The attempt was to join the crucial debates surrounding the alarming increase in environmental degradation, especially of rivers and river systems, without which the very survival of all species is in jeopardy.

A certain number of rivers, some sick or dying, some living and healthy, and some showing early signs of sickness, were taken up for presentations and discussion, and an attempt made to understand what has gone wrong in many cases, what has gone right in some, and what needs to be done to revive and restore dying or sick rivers. The series has been conceived and carried forward by India’s foremost expert in the field, Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer.

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Videos: Resurgence of the ahar pynes - Magadh Jal Jamaat helps revive 2000-year old flood water harvesting systems in Gaya, Bihar

Magadh Jal Jamaat, a loose network of progressive individuals in Gaya has been successfully able to revive over a dozen abandoned water sources and have instilled in people the need to create, clean up and conserve several lakes and ponds in the region. The problem of water scarcity had been of late afflicting the region, which once had a good system of ponds.

It is in this background that the group scripted a unique success story when they revived the Saryu talaab in 2006 and later on the Jamune Dasain in Gaya city with the help of Army Service Corps Gaya, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), police officials, professors, students, doctors and farmers. The revival of this pond set in motion a surge of constructive forces in the region and soon the effects ping-ponged into the revival of ahar pynes, the traditional water harvesting systems in the region. Around seventeen panchayats benefitted from the revival of the 28 km long Chapardha pyne, which carries greater discharge than the Son canal, the main public irrigation system in the area.

"Apna Pani - Apni Pahal" - A film on Magadh Jal Jamaat's work on reviving the ahar pyne systems in Gaya, Bihar - Part I

Magadh is centrally located in the present area of South Bihar. Its southern part is undulated and rocky while the northern part comprises of plains. There are plains ensconced within the undulated areas too where good agriculture has prevailed through the millennia. An elaborate network of ahar pynes have provided irrigation to the region, which was able to support the ancient Nalanda University and feed over fifty two water bodies in the area, which is constantly swarmed with pilgrims.

The area receives an annual average precipitation of over 1100 mm most of which falls during the monsoon months from June to September. Drawing upon centuries of experience, people built ahar pyne systems, to divert the floodwaters through pynes and stored them in ahars. Ahars are reservoirs with embankments on three sides and are built at the end of drainage lines such as rivulets or artificial works like pynesPynes are diversion channels led off from the river for irrigation purposes and for impounding water in the ahars.

It is mostly to the credit of these systems that paddy cultivation has been possible in this otherwise relatively low rainfall area, when compared to North Bihar. The system attained its highest development in the district of Gaya.

While the state had a role to play in the construction of the systems they were largely managed by the people in a collective mode. Modern development brought in hand pumps for drinking water purposes but very soon the decline of the aquifer led to them going defunct. The ahar pyne embankments got dilapidated, pynes became conduits of waste water and ponds became the new dumping grounds for solid wastes.

Rivers became big sewer lines and its beds were encroached for real estate purposes. The lakes meant for pilgrimage too got fouled and their water was no longer of bathing quality. Dug wells that brought up the water with diesel-powered pumps too started drying up and the supply of its water for the kharif season crop declined. The land could no longer support the families who lived on it, and this led to widespread migration. People got ever more alienated from community institutions which became weaker. They did not have time for community work such as maintaining ahar pynes, a final blow that rendered the systems defunct.

Religious tourism also played a significant role in hurrying this process. To tackle these, while in some villages people made efforts to revive these traditional systems, a tipping point that brought some of these systems back to life. But at most places they hung around waiting to be a part of the Son canal or Indrapuri barrage command area.

"Apna Pani - Apni Pahal" - A film on Magadh Jal Jamaat's work on reviving the ahar pyne systems in Gaya, Bihar - Part II

The state on the other hand was content at making laws. The Bihar Irrigation Act was enacted in 1997. Promila Pathak, Magadh Jal Jamaat has analysed the Act and is of the view that the provision of the Bihar Irrigation Act brings about privatization of state canal irrigation systems as well as ahar pynes. She says that as per the Act “all rights in the water of river, natural stream or natural drainage channel, natural lake or natural collection of water shall vest with the State Government subject to the provisions of Article 262 and Entry 56 of List of seventh schedule of the Constitution of India... Further, when the State Government proposes to construct a canal it shall publish a notification declaring its intention and indicating the site of the head work. And most importantly, no rights shall be acquired against the government under the provisions of the Indian Easement Act, 1882 in these waters."

Attempts have been made to privatise the traditional irrigation systems during the period 1997-2008 and the Magadh Jal Jamaat has been creating awareness about the consequences of this and the need to successfully restore the systems on a collective basis. While the state has been creating grounds for bringing in new policy and legal framework, Magadh Jal Jamaat has formulated a Water Policy for the Magadh region based on wide consultations.

Magadh Jal Jamaat came up with a booklet titled “Gaya shahar ki jal vyavastha: Samasya evam samadhan”, which attempts to deepen the understanding of the city’s physiography, hydrogeology, present status of water availability, its potential and based on these suggests water management measures that should be taken. It notes that the city when compared to places in Punjab and Gujarat is better endowed in terms of water availability but has highly inadequate water storage and distribution mechanism. The crisis according to Ravindra Pathak, Magadh Jal Jamaat is man-made and the problem has been plaguing the city in the drought years of 2006 and 2010.

While the State Government had rights over the water, the Bihar Irrigation Act also delegated the Collector with the authority to engage any agency to repair or construct the water systems whenever it is unable to do so on its own and this is one point which Magadh Jal Jamaat has utilised. In this locale, where agriculture is increasingly becoming unviable and irrigation costly, Magadh Jal Jamaat has created a momentum by focusing on smaller barrages on streams and calling for renovation of the system through regular removal of sand through reviving collective means like the traditional system of gomam (community labour), which had till some time ago seemed to have been washed away with the top soil.

They are actively working in close collaboration with the State Government to facilitate the creation of community based organizations for undertaking large-scale ahar-pyne renovation programme in the area. Ravindra Pathak notes that “so far the group has revived over a dozen abandoned water sources including Saryu talab in Gaya and has created several new ones”. 

Please find below two documents (in Hindi) by Magadh Jal Jammat -

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Gaya shahar ki jal vyavastha - The water systems of Gaya, Bihar - A booklet by Magadh Jal Jamaat14.38 MB
Magadh ki jal vyavastha - The water systems of Magadh region, Bihar - A booklet by Magadh Jal Jamaat58.16 MB

Videos: Lovraj Kumar panel discussion focuses on the challenges to biodiversity conservation, livelihoods and ecological sustainability

Guest post: Amita Bhaduri

The manner in which biodiversity contributes to poverty reduction and development had recently become a subject of heated debate at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CoP-11) at Hyderabad.  As a curtain raiser to this event, SPWD’s Lovraj Kumar panel discussion on 28th September, 2012 at IIC, New Delhi focused on the challenges to biodiversity conservation, livelihoods and ecological sustainability.

The discussion was chaired by Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The panelists included Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh; Ravi Chellam, a renowned wildlife scientist and Ligia Noronha, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The panelists agreed that environmental sustainability is a fundamental development objective and deliberated on the opportunities that are available for concrete action.

Talk by Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh at the Lovraj Kumar Panel Discussion

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