Murky carryings-on of babus in DoT and its Wireless Planning and Coordination wing aimed at torpedoeing indigenous 5G technology and Modi’s (telecom) atmnirbharta programme

telecom secretary Anshu Prakash: Latest News, Videos and Photos of telecom  secretary Anshu Prakash | Times of India
[Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash — going to do whose work?]

Time and again bureaucrats, regularly and routinely, blow up technology self-sufficiency initiatives, defying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public professions of atm nirbharta in high technology. This is so for one of two reasons. Firstly, because the PM’s directives are simply ignored, especially by “technical” departments of government — such as the telecommunications ministry under cabinet minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Or secondly, as I argued in my 2015 book — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), because each ministry and every agency within Government of India feels free to act as a soverign entity, the PM of the day — Modi — and his directives be damned!

In the case of the 5G technology, both these factors seem to be at at work. This is further to my statements on this subject on Defensive Offence forum (in my last post) where I mentioned that for the telecom ministry atm nirbharta apparently means keeping the Chinese majors Huawei and ZTE out, but handing over India’s telecom domain to Ericsson of Sweden, Nokia of Finland, and Samsung of South Korea. These foreign companies have set up units in India to assemble mobile phones from components imported from here and there but mostly from the parent firms. This screwdriverng level of technology the defence public sector units have specialized in, apparently satisfies the atm nirbharta standards for the generalist babus, in this instance, secretary and ex-officio Chairman of the Digital Telecom Commission, Anshu Prakash, IAS (Union Territory cadre) running the Department of telecommunications (DoT). Prakash, it is plain, has not the faintest clue about 5G or anything remotely technical relating to telecom. Lucky for Prakash his career, like those of other secretaries in GOI, does not depend on his knowing anything he pronounces on.

If Anshu Prakash has some slight knowledge in anything, it is Health. He was Health Secretary in Delhi government. So, how did this fellow become telecom secretary? For one of two reasons. One of them being luck of the draw — the reason why Prakash’s predecessor for the same reasons Aruna Subramanian was hoisted into the post. This is the value-neutral explanation. In that post she proved herself partial — as news reports and a previous post of mine related to her biases based on news reports, etc from her time in the ministry reveal, to China and the People’s Liberation Army offshoots Huawei and ZTE for the 4G+ systems in the country transitioning to 5G gear and systems. Huawei and ZTE have since been banned from the Indian market despite Subramanian’s best efforts, only to have the vacated space occupied, in her successor Prakash’s tenure as secretary, by Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. This is as acute an internal security threat as when Huawei and ZTE were monopolizing India’s telecom scene. It is a danger the DoT-WPC are actually nurturing!

The other reason for babus getting prized secretary posts is because what the person did in his previous post pleased the central government, reason enough for empanelling him/her for promotion. This is a motivation for babus in contention to conduct their duties with an eye to pleasing the PM/central government of the day. What may have helped Anshu Prakash to be rewarded with DOT Secretary post is his clash as Chief Secretary, Delhi Government, with the elected Aam Admi Party (AAP) chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, when he claimed in end-February 2018 that he was attacked by AAP MLAs. Some weeks later he mobilized the UT cadre officers in the Delhi govt secretariat and led a “candle light march” to protest the physical danger they apprehended from the AAP. It certainly got Prakash noticed by Modi’s BJP govt which has been going hammer and tongs against Kejriwal eversince his re-election for a second term. This possibly got Anshu Prakash into DoT.

So, welcome to the Government of India world where generalist civil servants, such as Prakash, act in contravention of worthwhile measures ordered directly by the Prime Minister. So much for the systemic change affected by the Narendra Modi regime over the last 6 years and the power and authority exercised by the Prime Minister and his PMO run by the superannuated Gujarati-speaking Gujarat cadre IAS officer and Principal Private Secretary to the PM, PK Mishra, who is trying to emulate his namesake from Vajpayee’s time, Brajesh Mishra, in being at the master controls of the over-bureaucratized GOI. This last is something Modi in his 2014 election campaign promised he’d remedy, but hasn’t!!

What is it about Anshu Prakash and 5G that has got me — as it should every Indian — so incensed? The Economic Times on May 11 carried a story 9 ( https://telecom.economictimes.com/news/telecom-secretary-puts-on-hold-5g-trial-spectrum-allotment-to-saankhya-labs-iisc-bengaluru/82545622 ) of how the telecommunications ministry ostensibly headed by Ravi Shankar Prasad but actually run by the IAS babu, Anshu Prakash, has put on hold the allocation of spectrum to Saankhya Labs and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore — the institution founded by the Physics Nobel laureate CV Raman and funded by the Tata’s, and the only Indian science institution that consistently ranks among the top scientific research organizations in the WORLD, for the testing of their separate, entirely indigenous, 5G technologies developed by them. Why, pray?

Well, because Saankhya supposedly did not follow due bureaucratic process. So what did Saankhya Labs do? Did it do something heinous such as jerry-rig the process so its technology being tested could take undue and unfair advantage? Or because it tried some other underhand means? NO, NO, but actually because Saankhya did something lot worse! It followed the laid down rules a little too scrupulously!!! But let’s follow the story.

The ET report based on info from “Government and industry insiders” suggests that Saankhya and IISc erred by not applying for the spectrum directly online to the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) wing of DoT, as mandated by the rules, but chose to approach “DoT’s Standards, R&D & Innovation (SRI) division”. “Minutes of an internal April 29 meeting of DoT’s SRI division show that specific directions were given to WPC’s Regional Licensing Office (RLO) in Chennai, ‘to issue experimental 5G spectrum licences to Saankhya Labs and IISc without any further delay by April 30’ itself. The RLO-Chennai was also ordered to grant such trial 5G spectrum to both applicants for six months, extendable upto 1 year. ET has seen a copy of the minutes of the meeting that was attended by senior officials of Saankhya Labs and IISc. Subsequently, Saankhya was granted in-principle experimental 5G airwaves in the premium 700/600 Mhz bands in Bengaluru to run trials for convergence of broadcast and broadband networks, while IISc was offered trial airwaves (in the 3.5 Ghz/2300-2400 Mhz bands) for testing in its campus lab.”

IISc, more experienced than Saankhya in dealing with GOI, tried to separate itself in this process, explaining to ET via its spokesman that “We have obtained a provisional license which was approved and signed by the Deputy Wireless Advisor, WPC …we are awaiting the grant of the final license, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.” Saankhya, per ET, did not respond to its queries, which the pink newspaper took to mean confirmation of WPC’s charge that it had, in fact, done something wrong. This even though ET also informed its readers that “According to the meeting minutes of DoT’s SRI wing, Saankhya needs trial 5G spectrum as it has IPRs [Intellectual Property Rights] and its products have global appeal and also recognised by US Federal Communications Commission’. The SRI Division, DoT, apparently was impressed by the fact, as ET also reported that “Saankhya has reportedly received a certification from the FCC [Federal Communications Commission in the United States] for its broadcast radio head (BRH), which enables convergence of broadcast and mobile networks and helps digital terrestrial broadcasters boost their reach and market share.”

Meaning, Saankhya, a proven chip-designer, has developed a technology, for which it has secured US and other international patents and which tech America is keen on buying and incorporating into its telecommunications grid in order to advance it. It was reason enough for SRI Div in DoT to speedily approve a spectrum license for Saankhya, which action irked WPC because it was bypassed. In this internal, intra-agency, DoT turf war WPC, it would appear, packs bigger clout, with head babu Prakash, whose technical knowledge extends to near zero!

Notwithstanding SRI Div’s good reasons for issuing Saankhya the license, the ET story continues thus: “But government insiders said the hasty manner in which such trial 5G spectrum was issued to Saankhya and IISc did not go down well with top officials in the DoT’s WPC wing, and the matter was put on hold after a review by telecom secretary Prakash and Wireless Advisor G K Agrawal.” The ET quotes from a May 5 “internal [DoT] communication“ by Agarwal which says “As directed by Secretary (Telecom), when Joint Wireless Advisor (JWA) along with myself were also present, the matter (pertaining to decision on experimental licences) is to be kept in abeyance till further orders, and JWA, RLO (Regional Licensing Office)-Chennai be informed for necessary action.”

Let’s flesh out the issue some more of the trial spectrum allocation to Sankhya-IISc, which got derailed, which the ET story didn’t do. What follows is known to everybody and his uncle in the telecom field, in the industry at-large, and certainly beyond DoT in the rest of the government which, incidentally, leaks information like a sieve. Indeed, there’s no national secret not spilled by motivated government officials when it serves their purposes.

In 2019, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) set up a Committee under Dr. Abhay Karandikar to decide on the rules for the issual of experimental 5G spectrum. Karandikar is Director of IIT, Kanpur, and earlier was Head of the Electrical Engineering Department IIT, Mumbai, head of its Research Park, and previously worked with ISRO and with the High Performance Computing Group at CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), Indore. The Karandikar Committee — not headed by a babu and hence not intent on creating new bureaucratic bottlenecks which is what most such committees in any ministry end up doing, decided reasonably that if the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) Wing of DoT — incharge of issuing licenses, failed to act on an application within 8 weeks of its submission, the license would be deemed as granted. It was this provision that WPC led by the above-mentioned GK Agrawal objected to vehemently. He may even have put down WPC’s objection on file.

But Saankhya, following the Committee’s rules, assumed that because they had not heard from WPC or anybody else in DoT that everything was go and it could proceed. It sought the license from the SRI office, Chennai, which was quickly given for the reasons of its acceptability in the US, the sort of American Good Housekeeping seal that has cleared bureaucratic logjams in GOI in other policy areas in the past in a jiffy.

In Nov 2020 Saankhya applied for “a radiating outdoor experimental license as per the policy” in the unused 700Mhz and 580Mhz bands. Per articulated policy, it did not require any such permission because this was way past the 8-week deadline for WPC decision imposed by the Karandikar Committee. But the company owning the towers on which the Saankhya tech systems needed to be installed insisted they get clearance from the WPC as it feared trouble without it. Repeated follow-ups up until March 2021 yielded no response from WPC. So, it is said, in early March 2021, Saankhya decided to approach the SRI Div within DoT. To resolve matters, in April 2021, Member (Technology), Telecom Commission, K. Ramchand called a meeting of all stake holders. [Correction: originally the text mentioned Peeyush Agrawal as Member Telecom. Agrawal, a lateral entry official, unfortunately, died within months of assuming office in 2018 and was replaced by Ramchand.] WPC head Wireless Advisor GK Agrawal, was also called for the meeting chaired by Ramchand but, conveniently, didn’t attend. The minutes of the meeting were circulated and an in principle approval given to both IISc and Saankhya, who attended this meeting, to start the trials for 6 months.

It brought a huffing and puffing GK Agrawal — the non-attendee at the Ramchand meeting, more interested in asserting and protecting WPC’s control of the licensing bottleneck — to secretary Anshu Prakash to whom this was all gobbledegook anyway. But to be fair to Anshu Prakash, GK Agrawal perhaps because of his objection on file — notings by stakeholders are sacrosanct and no secretary dares over-ride such objections put down on paper by even the junior most under-scretary in his ministry, and Prakash did not, but rather played along with the WPC head. Incidentally, the power of the officials — as in most GOI bureaucratic processes lies precisely in postponing/delaying decisions until, well, some potential beneficiary or the other coughs up … well, we know how that goes from umpteen such cases, don’t we?! So the inevitable happened, GK Agrawal on the basis, one presumes, of his noting prevailed on Prakash to stop the licensing process in its tracks under cover of a reexamination of the process, a usual time-consuming tactic, when all the secretary needed to do was read the report of the empowered Karandikar committee and throw out GK Agrawal’s objection which, considering his decision, Anshu Prakash didn’t do.

Meanwhile — and this reveals how a willing media is often used by officials in their intra-agency bureaucratic turf warfare, the Economic Times, having got the dope from someone in the DoT — who that source is, is fairly clear from the above exposition, published its story on May 11, which revealed the decisive meeting called by Ramchand, which as per the Karandikar Committee Report provisions, over-rode WPC. It was after the ET story falsely vilifying IISc and Saankhya became public that DoT formally informed these two spectrum allotees that their licenses were stalled pending inquiry. In other words, ET’s so-called investigative story was the hook on which DoT tried to hang its decision. Once the ET story came out there was one other casualty. Ramchand resigned a fortnight before his retirement possibly to avoid all the muck attending on this Prakash decision.

None of this could have escaped PK Mishra at the PMO. Why didn’t he take up the cudgels on behalf of the atmnirbharta policy that’s supposedly dear to the Prime Minister, and pull up Anshu Prakash, and especially GK Agrawal, and so send the right message to other babus up and down the GOI system gumming up the works on Modiji’s agenda that such obstructionism won’t be tolerated? Is it because IAS solidarity is so strong that PK Mishra didn’t want to collar Prakash, and get him transferred to public sanitation or some such department where his Health background would be put to better use?

“Daal main bahut kucch kala hai”, Modiji. If you don’t want these IAS babus and technical bureaucrats, who have grown fat, rich and lazy in their sinecures from saying no to all homegrown technology, and making a complete monkey out of you, and a nonsense of your atmbirbharta programme, you’d do well to pay attention to atleast your flagship policies, and see that the confusing welter of rules and regulations are streamlined and such bureaucratic barriers arbitrarily erected don’t hurt homegrown high tech, that incessant turf wars are curbed, and babus,such as GK Agrawal and Anshu Prakash, are punished for their recalcitrance and tardiness in realizing your aims and ambitions for a tech-wise self-sufficient and self-reliant India.

At a minimum, an investigation into just how and why the indigenous 5G technology is sought to be torpedoed, will be a good and salutary beginning.

It is not too late for you, PK Mishraji, to do the needful, before Modi rounds on you. There’s too much accumulating debris from policy and systemic failures in recent years that you may end up having to answer for.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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21 Responses to Murky carryings-on of babus in DoT and its Wireless Planning and Coordination wing aimed at torpedoeing indigenous 5G technology and Modi’s (telecom) atmnirbharta programme

  1. Amit says:

    Amazing to read about this! Pretty sure this kind of rot exists in other departments too, as well in state bureaucracies. I guess only politicians can change this. Or public exposure of such acts, which might hopefully put pressure to change. But India has so many such hard to solve problems, that it is difficult to imagine India ever fixing them.

  2. Ashok Kumar Rajput says:

    A K Rajput, rajput.ashok@gmail.com

    A balanced view. Good read.
    Hard and Harsh facts.
    But what is the solution?
    Actually there is lack of accountability, no team work, no focused approach, EGO satisfaction and proving superiority over one another is the favorite game, least regard to the work (its timely completion, the way it should be completed), least regard to national interests and, national defence, national security and National economy. There is no regard to Public that there should be capacity building in terms of human resources. Our focus is on borrowed and outdated incomplete and initially cheap but in long term costly devices and systems.
    Meetings and meetings keep on happening, knowledgeable persons get the least chance to speak in meeting and somewhat pre-decided points are floated time and again, of course, with due regards to the chair, the Chair decides the final decision, with little chance of appeal. So we are living in a self-woven web. Whatever we say and decide, if any, we rarely do. In the name of time constraints the decisions are not taken or are left and passed on to the other Departments and to the Sub-committees, sub-groups etc
    The spirit of Make in India and the whole philosophy behind it is not respected as it should have been.
    There are some structural legal problems also (which could be sorted out only at the highest level), Make in India Orders are under GFR (General Financial Rules) – applicable to Central Ministries and may be the Central Public Sector undertakings coming under Ministry. These are not applicable to State Governments and also not applicable to Private Sector and Private individuals. This is the biggest flaw e.g. take the case of equipment sensitive to Cyber Threat – the central Govt Department will procure (say with due scrutiny and compliance to MII Orders), but the Private and State government entities may not follow such a judicious approach [As Make in India (MII) Orders are not applicable on them]. The question here is that whether the devices acquired and installed by the Private/State entities will not endanger the Cyber security. Similarly there is no provision, rather no means of checking the existing installations from the angle of Cyber threats. Can some expert provide guidance in the matter? We should come out with a white paper and take up with the highest level in the Government for suitable direction, control, check and safety measures.
    Good luck

  3. whatsinitanyway says:

    @Bharatji
    1. There are only a few vendors for telecom equipment in the globe . Not even US houses one. So allowing those three is not a matter of choice.
    2. The standards for 5g will only serve urban use case. And for better or worse around 900mil users live in rural India. I heard that some additions were made to the international 5g standards… and the foreign equipment might not work. (They have to sell in other parts as well). So Indian manufacturers have to be included.
    3. Sankhya Labs is perhaps the only Indian company which comes a bit close to Bell labs in US. They have IPR which could make these so called unicorns look like donkeys.
    4. IISC has an amazing communication engineering department… spearheaded by Dr Anurag Kumar(one of the best people in the world to learn networks from).
    5. No offence but these Babu’s need to take some mathematics courses, it will knock stupidness out of their minds.
    On a side note Bharat ji do you think that recent proscribing of Huawei and ZTE(in western countries) has more to with the fact that these companies are now much ahead of their western counterparts.
    Their military forces have been warning about Huawei/ZTE for many years now but nobody listened till now. Even Xiaomi they are probably linked as well.

    Why don’t we have a center for policy research on these aspects too?
    Should we allow Chinese motor companies to operate in India? We should adopt a 50-50 model or very tough compliance. The products from these companies will not only thrive on Indian oil but also Indian data?
    Every Chinese product has backdoors.

  4. Received as email (language-edited version below), May 19, 2021:
    From Prof. NK Goyal, President CMAI & Chairman TEMA’ via India SITARA

    Yes, indeed a hard hitting and factual article by Mr Bharat Karnad. That is the real situation. Modi Ji after taking over second term himself said that bureaucrts have spoiled my five years and I will not allow you to do so. This was reported in media during Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat. Then Modi ji introduced lateral entry for JS level, and we all know the statusof that initiative. The Make in India program, which is applicable to only GOI and its PSUs and does not apply to States, or private sector. Even GOI departments do not follow. The bureaucrats knows what to implement and what not to. For that reason, the PPP MII order 4.6.2020 is under GFR Rule 153(ii) as Border country order 23.7.2020 is under GFR Rule 144(xi) under national security/defence interest. The article rightly says it needed one phone call from PMO, and that appears to be too much to expect. Likewise in face of hundreds of violations of PPP MII the only answer is cancellation of tender and alternative ways to bypass PPP MII. We have still to hear any action taken against anyone and that is incentive to go on trying to bypass the PPP MII.

    At times we do not know the real intention of Govt orders. The mandatory testing of all telecom equipment was gazette notified on 5.9.2017 under Indian Telegraph Rules, but is yet to be started for mobile equipments and mobile handsets.

    Ditto for AtmaNirbhar Bharat.

    On the other side we have wonderful success stories like surgical strike, Article 370 in JK, Ram Mandir, covid needs like PPE Kits, sanitisers, ventilators, oxygen, vaccine, highways, handling of farmers agitation, National Security Directives on Telecom, handling china border agitations etc.

    I am at loss to understand what is the way forward.

    Just one small bit of information. The Member Technology involved in this matter was Mr Ram Chand (and not Mr Peeyush Aggarwal mentioned in article)

    Prof N K Goyal
    President CMAI Association of India, Chairman Emeritus TEMA
    Member Governing Council Telecom Equipment & Services Export Promotion Council, Govt. of India
    Vice Chairman, ITU APT India, Adviser Gujarat Technological University
    Chairman India Trade Promotion Services, Dubai UAE,
    Director NFL National Fertilizers Ltd, Govt. of India

    • Thank you, Professor Goyal, for pointing out an error. It was K Ramchand who replaced Peeyush Agrawal as Member (Technology) on the Telecom Commission. Peeyush Agrawal, unfortunately died a few months after his lateral entry into DoT. This correction inserted in the post-text.

    • Mr.Saldin says:

      NK Goyal@ — “On the other side we have wonderful success stories like surgical strike, Article 370 in JK, Ram Mandir, covid needs like PPE Kits, sanitisers, ventilators, oxygen, vaccine, highways, handling of farmers agitation, National Security Directives on Telecom, handling china border agitations etc.”

      Success stories?!! Seriously?! Is this sarcasm? If this sarcasm, it is not clear at all.

      Karnad has written many an article excoriating Modi and the army for the pathetic handling of China’s actions, and this fellow talks about “wonderful success stories.” Lol!

      With Hindu nationalists like these in various high administrative positions (president, chairman, lol!), the whole damn situation is so ironic, pathetic, and all too representative of India’s “aukaat,” in the world.

  5. By email 18 May 2021 from Anil Wadhwa . He wrote:
    Very detailed and hard hitting expose of how bureaucrats in the Telecom Ministry are deliberately torpedoing the 5G efforts of domestic companies and even the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru.

  6. Email from Lt Gen. Kamal Davar, Tue, 18 May at 6:56 pm. General Davar was founding Director-General, Defence Intelligence Agency,

    A very informative, well -researched, timely piece which I am going to share with some of my erstwhile colleagues if you do not mind. Hope it reaches the powers that be. Great piece. Regards.

  7. By email from Air Marshal Harish Masand (Retd), May 18, 2021

    Wonderfully written. A bit of déjà vu.

    As a matter of fact, home-grown tech needs to be given some relaxation in rules, if necessary, and thus encouraged to prove their system. Here, I find the exact opposite.

    Very unfortunate. Hope PK Mishra and the PM act decisively.

  8. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    https://indianexpress.com/article/india/disengagement-not-de-escalation-army-chief-says-india-to-maintain-troop-levels-along-china-border-7322135/

    Keep maintaining the troops. What good were your troops when China managed to annex so much of Indian land last year?

    If the Chinese make aggressive moves again your troops will again withdraw, handing China more of Indian land.

    This army general is taking cues from PM Modi who just knows how to talk big but doesn’t have the guts to act tough.

  9. Pingback: Bharat Karnad’s expose of DoT’s blatant blow to High-Tech Domestic Companies – Sitara

  10. vivek says:

    Well this is reality of India, nothing will change.

  11. Mohite A A says:

    Dear Bharat Sir ,
    Book recommendation to understand how actually defence procurements work in india and to understand terms like GSQR,RFI, RFP, obsolescence tech, and N-C-N-C, etc, not just the definition but also its constraints?

  12. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    https://indianexpress.com/article/india/abhinav-chaudhary-indian-air-force-pilot-7324798/

    Professor Karnad, is it true that even the Russians stopped using the aforementioned fighter jets in the 80’s?

    The fact that Indian Air Force is still using these useless “flying coffins” in the year 2021 says enough about the lack of leadership (political/defense) prevailing in India.

  13. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    https://indianexpress.com/article/india/shivshankar-menon-post-covid-everyone-will-be-diminished-we-have-to-handle-our-problems-competently-not-do-image-management-7327291/

    Professor Karnad, I would highly appreciate your thoughts on the aforesaid.

    I think Mr. Menon is repeating a lot of points, which you have been reiterating for long.

  14. Krishna Soni says:

    https://swarajyamag.com/politics/long-read-why-upscs-archaic-selection-process-needs-a-complete-overhaul
    It seems the UPSC reforms are not far away.
    Modi hai to mumkin hai ,
    may be in 2025 or before 2024

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @ Krishna Soni- It’s mind boggling to see that his acolytes are still expecting wonders from Modi.The man has made India butt of global jokes by his pre-mature celebrations of “victory over Corona” and ‘India being an example to the world in its fight and victory over Corona’
      Now his self proclaimed 56 inch chest has transformed into 56 inch beard.

  15. Atul Bhusari says:

    Hello Sir,
    MOD has issued 2bd positive indeginisation list , which covers Sankhya products.

    Does this address your concerns?

    Thanks

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