Can Baahubali Lift Steel Screens Around Demonetization?

Central Information Commissioner Professor Sridhar Acharyulu in a landmark order directed every public institution including RBI, Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister’s Office to divulge all information pertaining to demonetization.
Can Baahubali Lift Steel Screens Around DemonetiZation?

Opinion

S Viraat from New Delhi

RBI violates RTI

The RBI has built steel walls of secrecy around the demonetization details, refusing every RTI question ignoring totally its mandatory duties and obligations under RTI Act. Is there any Baahubali who could break those iron curtains, a CIC order questioned, recently.

In its India Development Update report, World Bank said India’s GDP growth may have slowed to 6.8% in 2016-17, from 7.9% in the previous year, as November’s note ban decision slowed activity in cash-dependent sectors, as reported by Hindustan Times today (30.5.2017) The demonetisation drive that weeded out ₹ 15.44 lakh crore of high denominated currency notes impacted the poor and the vulnerable the most, it said.

The RBI refused to answer the question: Why were ₹ 1000 and ₹ 500 notes demonetised by the government? RBI feels that the reasons behind the sudden announcement cannot be made public. The monetary policy regulator also refused to give any details about the time it will take to replenish the currency notes. “The query is in the nature of seeking future date of an event which is not defined as information as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act,” RBI said in response to an RTI query.

The RTI Act breached by RBI

The RBI has ignored a very important statutory obligation on it imposed by the RTI. The following are the provisions which the RBI has to suo motu disclose without anybody asking for it. But the RBI refused repeatedly the RTI applications for the information which it should have voluntarily disclosed.

Section 4(1) Every Public Authority shall publish (b) (iii) the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability

(vii) the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;

(viii) a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, accessible for public;

(c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;

(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.

RBI’s unjustifiable excuses

PTI reported on 29 December 2016 that the Bankers’ Bank refused to disclose reasons behind the demonetisation of about ₹ 20 lakh crore of currency in the country citing Section 8(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act, which says, “Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” Several judicial orders mandated the PIOs to justify the rejection under exception, instead of merely mentioning the section 8. RBI did not give any reasons as to how exemption would apply in the given case as the decision was already taken and there was no way that disclosure of information would have fitted in any of the reasons cited in section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. The factly.in reported on 21 December 2016 that the RBI refused to disclose the list of meetings and their minutes held before the demonetization decision. RBI said it was sensitive matter. Following is the RTI question and RBI response.

What is Sec 8(1)(a) of the RTI act?

Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI act exempts the following information from disclosure, ‘Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence’

In another report dated 30 January 2017 the factly.in said: In yet another shocking response to an application under RTI, RBI refused to provide information on supply & indent of new notes. However, the appellate authority of RBI had a different opinion. This is request and response:

No to minutes of meetings

In spite of Section 4(1)(b), (C) and (d) of RTI Act, the Reserve Bank of India has refused to allow access to minutes of meetings held to decide on the issue of demonetization of ₹ 1000 and ₹ 500 notes announced on November 8.

Responding to an RTI application filed by activist Venkatesh Nayak, the Bankers’ Bank refused to disclose the minutes of the crucial meetings of Central Board of Directors on the issue of demonetization citing section 8(1)(a) of the transparency law as per the report of DNAIndia dated 25 Decemeber  2016.

One RTI activist Parvinder Singh Kitna souight, on November 17, copies of letters received from the ministries concerned or departments and PM for starting the process in this regard, when the process of demonetisation of high currency notes was started in RBI, and copies of the final legal and financial opinion on the subject given by the respective offices, etc. The CPIO of RBI, in reply to the question about date of decision, said RBI had issued instructions on the basis of the Government of India’s notification on November 8 and the same was available on the website of the finance ministry’s website. For other questions RBI claimed that the information sought related to sensitive matters pertaining to discontinuation/withdrawal of banknotes. The information is exempt from disclosures under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, it said.

Times of India news reported on 30 December 2016 that, earlier, PMO’s CPIO had in reply to Kitna’s RTI application on December 16 had also refused to divulge information citing another provision of the Act. However, the RTI activist argued that though the RTI Act provided some exemption, but also stated that “the decisions of Council of ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over,” and that the information which could not be denied to Parliament or a state legislature shall not be denied to any person. He said he would file an appeal with the appellate authority, as provided by the RTI Act, against this refusal.

On 16 March 2017, the RBI has refused to answer ‘why note conversion was not allowed till 31 March’ under the RTI Act, claiming the query does not come under the definition of ‘information’

The question was: Why was not the conversion of old currency notes allowed till 31 March 2017 for Indians as assured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech on 8 November 2016 announcing demonetisation? The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has refused information sought claiming that the query does not come under the definition of “information” of RTI Act.

The RTI Act defines “information” as “any material in any form” held by or under the control of a public authority. The definition covers “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force”.

The RBI refused to share file notings on the decision to limit currency conversion window till 31 March only for NRIs saying it would be against the economic interests of the state. If demonetization is in economic interests, how can the reasons or information about it is against economic interests of the state?

The applicant had sought reasons, as “recorded” in the files of the RBI, behind the decision to not allow conversion of currency till 31 March for Indians as assured by the PM.

There several judgments by Supreme Court, High Courts and CIC besides several State Information Commissions held if opinion or advice is available in the records of the public authority, it will come under the definition of the “information” under the RTI Act. The RBI has conveniently ignored section 8(2) of the RTI Act which allows disclosure of information, even if it is exempted, if it is in larger public interest.

The RBI has stonewalled almost every RTI query pertaining to demonetisation on one or the other excuse ignoring several mandatory provisions. It had refused to respond if the views of finance minister Arun Jaitley or chief economic advisor were taken before demonetisation was announced, it had also refused to disclose reasons behind the sudden move, among others.

CIC’s order

In a recent order, the Central Information Commission Professor M Sridhar Acharyulu, observed that it was the duty of every government department concerned with demonetisation to spell out all relevant facts and reasons behind the radical move. The PTI reported on May 28, 2017:  In what could be the first comments of the transparency panel on the lack of information about the notes ban decision, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said any attempt to withhold information would generate serious doubts about the economy. He said the attitude of building “steel forts” around the decision needed to be done away with.

Can Baahubali break steel forts of secrecy?

“It is very difficult to reconcile with the attitude of building steel forts–that could not be broken even by Baahubali–around the public affair of demonetisation in a democratic nation, if governed by rule of law,” he said. He was referring to the 2015 blockbuster film Baahubali.

The observations assume importance in the background of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry rejecting RTI applications which sought the reasons behind the notes ban.  Acharyulu was deciding a case of an RTI applicant, Ramswaroop, who had sought information from the post office in Pinto Park Air Force area about the total currency exchanged there, the people who exchanged it and the number of customers who provided their identification proof for exchange. The postal department claimed they did not have the information in a consolidated form.

Directing the department to disclose the information, Acharyulu also said all public authorities should reveal information about the move which has affected every citizen of the country.

“All the public authorities have a moral, constitutional, RTI-based democratic responsibility to explain to each and every citizen who is affected by demonetisation, the information, reasons, impact and remedial measures, if discovered any negative impact,” he said. He said the CPIO should not have brushed aside this RTI request which reflected his blatant anti-transparency attitude.

He said each person was affected by the decision and even beggars, rikshaw pullers, push-cart sellers reeled under this stroke. “If the suffering was just temporary and there will be windfalls in future, let that also be told to the people officially by each and every public authority concerned with demonetisation,” he said. He said if public authorities shy away from disclosing any information related to notes ban, it would raise serious questions in the mind of general public.

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Banks Have No Liability For Loss Of Valuables In Lockers: RBI

The RBI says the public sector banks are not responsible if the valuables kept in their lockers are lost. Why hire lockers then?

Hyderabad:  Why do you hire a locker in a bank? Since it is a secure place than our houses. And there is no place as secure and safe as a bank locker. You might also be thinking that you will be paid the cost of valuables you kept in the locker in case of burglary at the bank. Then you are mistaken!

The truth is that the onus does not rest on the public sector banks in which you hired lockers. The agreement you sign before hiring safe lockers absolve them of all liability.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and 19 Public Sector banks disclosed this uncomfortable truth responding to an RTI application. The applicant Kush Karla, an advocate, approached the Competition Commission of India (CCI) subsequently informing it of the contents of the response. He deposed that the RBI in its reply to his RTI application made it clear that it has not prescribed any parameters to assess the loss suffered by a customer.   More: Indian IT Industry Should Have Prepared for H1B Changes: BJP Foreign Affairs In-Charge

The banks contended that their relationship with the customers with regard to lockers is that of lessee and lessor. In common parlance, the lessee is the bank and lesser is the customer. They further made the customer responsible for the valuables he or she kept in the locker.

In general, the locker hiring agreements of any bank states, “As per safe deposit memorandum of hiring locker, the bank will not be responsible for any loss or damage of the contents kept in the safe deposit vault as a result of any act of war or civil disorder or theft or burglary and the contents will be kept by the hirer at his or her sole risk and responsibility.”  The banks also usually advise the customers to insure their belongings kept in the locker.

The RTI applicant Kush Karla wondered why one would hire lockers if they themselves were to insure their valuables. He alleged that the banks formed into cartels and resorting to anti-competitive practices. Seeking an investigation into the alleged cartelisation by the banks in respect of the locker services, he said the banks were trying to limit their services.

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₹ 1 Note To Be Reintroduced

The Reserve Bank has decided to withdraw one rupee coins and reintroduce one rupee notes instead.

In a rather surprising decision, the Union government has decided to reintroduce ₹ 1 note after a gap of 22 years. The Federal Bank, which has withdrawn the high-denomination ₹ 1000 and ₹ 500 notes recently will, in all likelyhood, withdraw the ₹ 1 coins citing misuse. Interestingly, ₹ 2 and ₹ 5 were also withdrawn earlier.

This smaller denomination note will be printed by the government and not by the Reserve Bank, which has been a practice till date. The new note will have the signature of the union finance secretary and not the RBI governor whose sign is printed on all notes.

But the new note will be burdensome on people as it costs 94 paise to make whereas the coin costs 70 paise. Government says coins are being melted by many people to use them for other purposes and hence the decision to withdraw.

According to a statement by the finance ministry, the new Re 1 note will be 9.7 by 8.3 cm and in a pink and green colour theme. Its previous avatar was of an indigo colour.

It will have ‘Bharat Sarkar’ on its masthead, with ‘Government of India’ printed below that. All other currencies have ‘Bharatiya Reserve Bank’ and ‘Reserve Bank of India’ printed on them.

The watermarks of the ₹ 1 note will include the Ashoka Pillar, the hidden numeral “1” and the hidden word “Bharat (in Hindi)”. The note will also feature a replica of the one rupee coin and an image of the ‘Sagar Samrat’ oil exploration rig.

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President Promulgates A New Ordinance To Recover Bad Loans

President Pranab Mukherjee promulgated an ordinance empowering Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to act directly against any major loan defaulters.

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee promulgated an ordinance empowering Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to act directly against major loan defaulters on Friday.

The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance will allow government agencies to chase major bank loan defaulters without any hurdle.  It authorizes the Reserve Bank to direct banks to start insolvency procedures in case of a loan default.

With this, the central bank can set up panels to advise banks on their best way to rid themselves of piling bad loans.

The new law comes into effect immediately. It covers companies, partnership firms as well as individual defaulters. Highlighting the mounting stressed assets in the banking system, the ordinance said, as they have reached unacceptably high levels and urgent measures are needed for their resolution.

Bad bank loans decrease profits, choke credit flow and prevent lenders from lowering interest rates at a faster pace and hurt the economic growth of the country.

The Cabinet on Wednesday approved promulgation of an ordinance to amend the Banking Regulation Act to recover bad loans speedily. The move comes after clarion calls from lenders who have been jostling with stressed assets amounting to about Rs 10 lakh crore, or close to 7% of India’s GDP, as of December-end.

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RBI To Introduce New 200 Notes

New Delhi: According to the official of RBI, proposal for introduction of 200 notes was cleared and will start printing process after June. Government has to give official signal for the process which is still pending.

Decision was taken in Board meeting of RBI, but the official spokesperson of RBI declined to comment on this.

It will be a relief for the people if they have lower denominations between Rs 2000 and RS 500 rather than RS 200.

 

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RBI to reintroduce Rs 1000 notes

Hyderabad: Plans to reintroduce 1000 Rupee notes which were withdrawn were finalized by RBI and Government, but not clear when they will be introduced in the market.

New notes were supposed to be introduced in January which has been delayed. This is due to the need for supply of new 500 rupee notes to replace the old 500 notes which were demonetised on November 8th.

New 1000 notes will come up with enhanced security features and in smaller size than previous according to RBI sources. RBI already started production of these new 1000rs which will reduce  gap between 500 and 2000 denominations .

Daily limit on withdrawal has been raised to 50,000 for saving account holders which came as a relief for citizens after demonetisation.

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RBI to release new Rs 100 note

Hyderabad: Even as the people were grappling for getting their money at Banks and ATMs, RBI is likely to release new Rs 100 series into open market.

According to the information, the new series will resemble that of 2005 Mahatma Gandhi series and will have letter R and Governor Urjit Patel’s signature at the place of numbers. Behind the note of Rs 100 denomination, year of printing 2017 will be found while numerals in ascending order will be found in number panels, it is said. The new notes will soon hit the banks and ATMs and enable the people to withdraw the same. However, the existing old notes of Rs 100 denomination will remain legal tender and can be used as usual, it is learnt. The new Rs 100 notes, on release, will help people overcome the shortage of change and small notes.

-NSS

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NaMo’s de-mon

TALKING POINT

smr new

Madhusudhana Rao S

In one week, we are going to usher in the New Year, like everyone else in the rest of the world. Traditional Yuletide precedes New Year celebrations. But this time hardly any such festive fervor is perceptible. With people cutting their purchases to the bare minimum, customers are no longer thronging shops to buy Christmas gifts to the dear and near ones. Nor could they afford the luxury of going on a shopping spree with most of their spare time being spent in long queues at post offices and banks to get a couple of thousands of rupees as pocket money. That too in 2000 rupee notes which none accepts for fear of parting with lower denomination currency.

So, after 45 days post-demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes with the contentious aim of ferreting out black money, fighting out corruption, eliminating fake currency and rooting out terror funding, we are left low and cashless.

If this is Modi’s way of transforming a cash-rich, black-money fuelled and unaccounted wealth-generating economy into plastic card-swiping digital economy, we must admit he is succeeding. But at what cost?   Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP stalwarts claim that the people are with him in his drive against black money. Surely, they are. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be standing in endless queues and make several rounds to ATMs and banks in the hope of getting a few hundred or thousands to pay vegetable vendors, household helps, grocery shops, etc. Their patience is wearing thin by every passing day and they are also exasperated with the situation. This is the tyranny forced on the majority by a miniscule minority who are crooks of first order. They exist everywhere, in every country and these uncouth people bend the rules, hoodwink the government and make their lives merry at the cost of fellow citizens.

That’s what is happening now in this country. We don’t have money in our hands and we have to struggle to get it. But dozens of officials in public offices and banks and businessmen are able to garner crores of rupees in mint condition without sweating with the connivance of those who are supposed to be responsible for money management. What we see and read in the digital and print media is only the tip of the iceberg. Of utmost concern is, the iceberg is growing, not melting. As its size is increasing with more seizures of new and old currency notes and gold, the focus has shifted from money crisis to money accumulation by a few well connected people.

No doubt, they have been brought under the purview of law and their illegally gotten wealth has been seized. Does their arrests help mitigate common man’s money problems? It will take years before the errant officials were brought to justice and awarded punishments for their unlawful activities. In fact, if there is a fear of law, so many people wouldn’t have been making a quick buck by converting illegal currency into legal money and yellow metal. It is sheer absence of fear of law that encourages the politically powerful and well-connected people to indulge in economic offences with impunity.

Nevertheless, demonetization is a welcome move in the multi-pronged strategy of unearthing illegal wealth but there is no respite for the common man from the daily hardships. Those who have debit and credit cards are able to shore it up while those who possess neither are still looking for some relief from the government at the Centre and in states which are spinning a digital magical world of the future.

Unfortunately, we can’t live for long imagining the future. The present reality keeps knocking our heads every moment. The Prime Minister had promised On November 8 normalcy would return in a month and bear with the difficulties for a month when he announced his demonetization decision and sought people’s cooperation in making his programme a success. He got an overwhelming positive response. Even with an extension of 20 more days after he administered the bitter medicine, the system is not showing the signs of returning to normalcy. On the other hand, it is wilting to the extent that it may take many more months than expected to recover and function in a normal way. With so many flip-flops and U-turns by the government and RBI, it is difficult to see an early end to our travails.

First, where are the promised new Rs 500 notes? They were supposed to have made their debut a week after demonetization. Banks and post offices are giving only Rs 2000 notes. There is no sign of Rs 500 notes coming into the market in a big way, although RBI is reported to have said that it had released crores of rupees of this denomination. Have these notes too disappeared from the market in a clandestine way?

As we are on the threshold of 2017, we can’t wholeheartedly say three cheers to New Year. It is for the Modi government to dispel the gloom descending on the coming year in an ominous way.

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People want Rs 200 note to ease crisis

  • Rs 50 & Rs 20 notes in new series

Hyderabad: In the wake of unabated problems of demonetization being faced by people to get change and withdraw money at banks and ATMs, RBI is planning to come out with new series of Rs 20 and Rs 50 notes into the market.

The existing old notes of Rs 20 and Rs 50 denomination will remain and be used as usual, RBI officials said. Despite pumping in liquid cash of Rs 100 and Rs 2,000 across the nation, the people are running helter-skelter to draw their money in vain as the banks and ATMs could not meet the demand. Keeping this persisting problem in view, coupled with the rhetoric of the opposition and political parties, the Centre has decided to release the two new notes.

However, there is also a strong demand from public, employees, youth and students that the Centre instead could bring in Rs 200 note to address the problem besides releasing adequate quantities of Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20 and Rs 10 notes into the open market at the earliest. As it was becoming a problem to get the change for Rs 2,000 denomination in the open market, it is prudent to print Rs 200 note, experts believe.

According to information, the Centre has instructed the RBI to print and distribute the new series of Rs 20 and Rs 50 notes in adequate numbers for small change to ease the panic situation among people. The RBI has informed that it has taken adequate security measures and standards for the new notes to be released. –NSS

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Wealth does not tickle-down on its own!

  • Misunderstanding Financial Inclusion
  • Nationalised banks shall serve the poor
  • Local youth to be trained, employed by banks
  • Empower Panchayat Raj bodies
  • Keynes our inspiration, not Chicago School eggheads!

(Vithal Rajan)

Vithal Rajan PhotoAfter sixty years of independence the Indian banking system has come to the slow recognition that financial inclusion is important as a social good. It has yet to understand that it is a vital first step for steady national economic growth. This misunderstanding has a hoary class heritage which places the centrality of economic welfare in the interests of the wealthy, whose actions in self interest would result in a trickle-down effect to sustain the vast masses of the poor. The greater the support to the people at the top, through tax cuts, veiled subsidies, and special benefits, the greater the national growth, and the better the survivability of the masses. In this reading, the masses of the poor are seen like beggars, incapable of economic initiatives to help themselves, let alone the nation.

Recently, the government sent a strong signal that it is unwilling to be the sole cash provider for the public sector banks [PSBs], which have racked up huge non-performing assets with defaulting corporates, while being unable and unwilling to reach out to the poor because of high administrative costs. Dissolving government-held equity into private hands may improve financial efficiency of the PSBs, but this measure is quite unlikely to increase financial inclusion since private players would want to minimize risks even more. The RBI is planning to licence small banks as a way of increasing outreach lower down the class hierarchy and into rural areas, but as the chairperson of the SBI has warned these private units would find it hard to enlarge business, update technology usage, and also maintain a profit margin all at the same time.

Certainly these small private banks may offer competition to local moneylenders, and also mop up some deposits that might otherwise go into chit funds and similar instruments. Some will also act as banking correspondents of the big banks. But it is unlikely that financial inclusion will be achieved by them, if this is to mean reaching significant amounts of much needed credit on time into the hands of farmers and their associations, self-help groups, and petty businesses in the informal sector. Adventurism by micro-finance institutions led to disaster some years ago in Andhra Pradesh. Similar mishaps will occur if the RBI and its bodies are slack in regulating these new small banks. However, firm regulation on the other hand, plus the necessity to maintain workable profits, will result in these entities restricting credit supply to the needy, and increasing the interest burden on the poor. The poor after some experimentation may decide to continue business with known local moneylenders.

The best route for sizeable financial inclusion would be for the SBI and other national banks to own a controlling interest in new small banks created for the specific purpose of serving the poor, and cut administrative costs by staffing them with specially trained local village youth. Middleclass city-based managers would not know local realities, and ultimately limit ‘banking’ to ‘money lending.’ Local village managers would know local realities, and work with the community to employ the money to the best advantage.

Such an approach to extend financial inclusion to poor communities can be safely monitored by empowered constitutional PRI bodies, which as of now exist only in name. Such demand-side management would blazon out a growth path for wealth to gush up to the top from economically creative communities at the grassroots. This idea is far from new, for it goes back almost 80 years.

Demand-side management of the economy has been thoughtlessly discredited by the Chicago School eggheads, and Reaganomics, to which we owe much of the world’s ills. This happened despite the well-known work of the great British economist, John Maynard Keynes, and the successful practical application of his theories, first in the New Deal of the 1930s created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to restart the American economy, and later in the Marshall Plan to revive the destroyed economies of war-torn Europe after World War II.

The elite ideology that continues to prop up state support for the wealthy all around the world, despite rapid and catastrophic boom and bust cycles is founded not only in class self interest, but also based in the real intellectual isolation of economic decision makers from the world inhabited by the masses. It is such intellectual isolation that resulted in the great revolutions, but the elites of the world nowadays control massive firepower, and disperse disaffected people with the help of charitable organizations, handouts, loan mafi (write off), food coupons and gamesmanship. It is India’s tragedy that top economists from Montek Singh Ahluwalia to Raghuram Rajan continue to be mesmerized by the elitist notion that wealth trickles down from the top. This is no more than bad economics and selfish ruling-class ideology, thrust upon us by Americans as part of their hegemonic power-play.

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