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Daily Current Affairs

31-January-2024

1. India Ranks 93rd in 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index: Challenges and Developments in a Global Context

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Important aspects of governance- Transparency and accountability
Prelims Relevance: Questions related to global indices, rankings, and their implications are common in the Preliminary examination. Mains Relevance: The index sheds light on the state of governance and public sector corruption in India, which is relevant for Governance
Context:
  • India has been ranked 93 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2023, as reported by Transparency International.
  • The index assesses countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption, with Denmark securing the top spot, followed by Finland, New Zealand, and Norway.
  • India’s overall score in 2023 was 39, a slight decrease from 2022 when it scored 40. Despite minor fluctuations in its score, India’s rank dropped from 85 in 2022.
More about the news: Global and Regional Context:
  • The Corruption Perceptions Index employs a scale of 0 to 100, where
0 indicates high corruption, and 100 signifies cleanliness.
  • While Western Europe and the European Union maintained their status as the top-scoring regions, the regional average score decreased to 65 in 2023 due to weakened checks and balances and eroding political integrity.
  • In the Asian region, Singapore led with a score of 83, securing the fifth position.
India’s Civic Space and Legislative Developments:
  • The report notes that India experienced a further narrowing of civic space ahead of elections, citing the passage of a telecommunication bill that could pose a ‘grave threat’ to fundamental rights.
  • Despite small score fluctuations, the report refrains from drawing firm conclusions about significant changes in India’s corruption landscape.
South Asian Dynamics:
  • In South Asia, Pakistan (rank 133) and Sri Lanka (rank 115) grapple with debt burdens and political instability.
  • Both countries, however, maintain strong judicial oversight, with the Supreme Court of Pakistan expanding citizens’ right to information under Article 19A of its Constitution.
China’s Approach to Corruption:
  • China, ranked 76, has garnered attention for its aggressive anti-corruption measures, punishing over 3.7 million public officials for graft over the last decade.
  • However, the report raises doubts about the long-term effectiveness of China’s approach, emphasizing its heavy reliance on punishment over institutional checks on power.
Global Rankings at the Bottom:
  • The bottom of the index includes Myanmar (162), Afghanistan (162), and North Korea (172). Somalia, with the lowest score of 11, occupies the 180th rank.
  • These countries face severe challenges in combating corruption, contributing to their low standings on the Corruption Perceptions Index.
About Transparency International
  • Founded in 1993, this global non-governmental organisation is headquartered in Berlin, Germany.
  • Its non-profit goals are to stop criminal activity that results from corruption and to fight global corruption through civil society anti-corruption initiatives.
  • The Corruption Perception Index and the Global Corruption Barometer are two of its most well-known publications.
PYQ: In the integrity index of Transparency International, India stands very low. Discuss briefly the legal, political, economic, social and cultural factors that have caused the decline of public morality in India. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2016)
Practice Question:  Critically analyze India’s rank and score in the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International. Discuss the implications of this ranking on India’s governance, public administration, and the challenges it poses to ethical and integrity-based policymaking. (250 words/15 m)

2. India's Inaugural Snow Leopard Population Assessment Discloses 718 Cats, Ladakh Leads with 477: Report Unveiled by Environment Minister

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Conservation
Prelims Relevance: Questions related to wildlife conservation, endangered species, and government initiatives to protect biodiversity may incorporate information from this news
Mains Relevance: Questions related to wildlife protection, conservation strategies, and the role of various stakeholders in preserving endangered species could potentially draw upon the findings of this snow leopard population assessment
Context:
  • The Union Environment Ministry revealed that India is home to an estimated 718 snow leopards, marking a significant milestone in the first-ever ‘Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India.’
  • The comprehensive assessment was conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in collaboration with all snow leopard range states and two conservation partners, namely the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysuru and WWF India.
  • The study, carried out between 2019 and 2023, provides valuable insights into the current status of these elusive big cats in the country.
More about the news: Ladakh Reports Maximum Numbers:
  • Among the regions surveyed, Ladakh emerges as a key habitat for snow leopards, reporting the highest number of these majestic creatures at 477.
  • This data sheds light on the distribution and concentration of the snow leopard population, with Ladakh playing a crucial role in their conservation.
Release of the Report:
  • Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav released the comprehensive report during the National Board for Wildlife meeting.
  • The unveiling of this assessment is a significant step toward understanding and conserving the snow leopard population in India.
  • The collaboration between governmental bodies and conservation partners underscores the collective effort to ensure the well-being and sustainability of this vulnerable species
Conclusion:
  • This population assessment not only contributes to the knowledge base regarding snow leopards in India but also serves as a foundation for informed conservation strategies and policies to safeguard these magnificent creatures in the face of various challenges.
About Snow Leopard
  • Scientific Name: Panthera uncia
  • Top Predator: As the apex predator in the food chain, snow leopards serve as an indicator for the state of the mountain ecosystem in which they reside.
Protection Status:
  • IUCN List of Threatened Species: Vulnerable.
CITES: Appendix IIndian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: Schedule-I.
  • Habitat: They are widely but unevenly distributed throughout the highlands of central Asia, which includes the Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Sikkim.
  • Threat: primarily threatened by the extinction of natural prey species, retaliatory killing brought on by human conflict, and the illicit trafficking in its bones and fur.
PYQ: Consider the following: (2012) 1) Black-necked crane 2) Cheetah 3) Flying squirrel 4) Snow leopard Which of the above are naturally found in India? (a) 1, 2 and 3 only (b) 1, 3 and 4 only (c) 2 and 4 only (d) 1, 2, 3 and 4 Ans: (b)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of India’s inaugural ‘Snow Leopard Population Assessment’ in the context of biodiversity conservation. Analyze the role of collaborative efforts involving government bodies and conservation partners in such initiatives. (250 words/15 m)

3. HSBC Research Urges India to Prioritize Hybrids for Decarbonization Over Next Decade, Citing Lower Emissions and Practical Viability

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental impact assessment
Prelims Relevance: Questions related to environmental policies, government initiatives for sustainable development, and global energy scenarios may incorporate related information.
Mains Relevance: Questions related to India’s energy policies, challenges in the adoption of sustainable technologies, and the implications of transitioning to EVs can draw from the content provided.
Context:
  • A recent research note from HSBC emphasizes the need for India to prioritize hybrid vehicles in its decarbonization efforts over the next 5-10 years before fully embracing electric vehicles (EVs).
  • The note contends that hybrids are a more practical medium-term solution and are currently less polluting than both EVs and traditional petrol/diesel vehicles when considering overall carbon emissions.
More about the news: Current Scenario and Industry Approach:
  • As per the research, HSBC underscores that India’s carbon emissions are lower for hybrids compared to EVs, and it could take up to a decade for both types of vehicles to have comparable emission levels.
  • While companies like Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Hyundai Motor are betting big on EVs, the market leader Maruti Suzuki has adopted a more conservative approach, prioritizing hybrids in partnership with Toyota Kirloskar.
Comparison of Emission Levels:
  • The note compares the wheel-to-wheel (WTW) carbon emissions from EVs (158g/km) and hybrids (133g/km), indicating that hybrids are at least 16% less polluting than their electric counterparts.
  • The analysis encompasses not only tailpipe emissions but also includes vehicle emissions (tank-to-wheel, or TTW) and emissions from crude mining, refining, and power generation.
Long-Term Emission Convergence and Policy Implications:
  • The researchers anticipate that EV and hybrid emissions could converge after 7-10 years.
  • They highlight the importance of increasing the share of non-fossil power generation in India to make EVs and hybrids more environmentally friendly.
  • The note suggests that even by 2030, with a 40% share of non-fossil fuels, hybrids could emit 8% less than EVs, aligning with India’s electric mobility plan.
Global Context and Challenges:
  • The note briefly discusses the global scenario, emphasizing that overt subsidies for EVs, seen in countries like Norway, might not be as effective in developing countries like India.
  • It also points out the challenges related to charging infrastructure, the energy source for EVs, and the dependency on global supply chains for lithium-ion batteries.
Key Concerns and Considerations:
  • The challenges identified include the need for an elaborate charging network, the source of electricity generation, and India’s dependency on imports for lithium-ion batteries.
  • The note raises questions about the effectiveness of existing policies and emphasizes the importance of considering the entire value chain for EVs.
Conclusion:
  • While advocating for the prioritization of hybrids in the short to medium term, the HSBC research note encourages a holistic approach to India’s electric mobility plan, taking into account various factors affecting the adoption and sustainability of EVs.
PYQ: Describe the major outcomes of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). What are the commitments made by India in this conference? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2021)
Practice Question:  How can the government formulate policies that balance the adoption of hybrids and EVs to achieve sustainable and decarbonized mobility? (150 words/10 m)

4. Scientific Breakthrough: First Rhino Pregnancy Through IVF Raises Hope for Northern White Rhino, but Challenges Abound

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Conservation
Prelims Relevance: Questions related to biodiversity conservation, endangered species, or scientific advancements in the environment
Mains Relevance: Questions related to conservation strategies, the ethical considerations of species revival, the impact of human activities on biodiversity, and the challenges in implementing scientific interventions could potentially be explored in mains examinations
Context:
  • A consortium of scientists called BioRescue, comprising 20 researchers from five continents, achieved a landmark breakthrough by achieving the first-ever rhino pregnancy through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
  • This success was achieved by transferring a lab-made rhino embryo into a surrogate mother, a southern white rhino, a closely-related subspecies that diverged from the northern whites about a million years ago.
  • The project is an ambitious attempt to resurrect the northern white rhino, declared extinct in the wild in 2008 after the death of the last male in 2018.
More about the news: Complexity of the Reconstruction Process:
  • Rebuilding the northern white rhino population involves using stored embryos of the northern white stored in liquid nitrogen.
  • However, the process faces multiple challenges, including the limited gene pool due to using eggs from two females and sperm from a few deceased males.
  • The researchers acknowledge the difficulty of creating a gene pool large enough for a viable population and propose using stem cells to broaden the breeding pool.
Genetic Viability and Conservation Strategies:
  • Concerns about the genetic viability of the resurrected species arise from the limited number of animals contributing to the gene pool.
  • The potential solution of creating sperm and eggs from stem cells extracted from preserved tissue samples stored in zoos faces uncertainties, as it has worked in lab mice but may not be easily replicable in rhinos.
  • The alternative of crossbreeding with the southern subspecies is rejected due to the loss of unique attributes of the northern white rhino.
Behavioral and Social Challenges:
  • Even if successful, the introduction of northern white rhino calves through IVF raises behavioral challenges.
  • Calves born through this process need to be raised by northern white adults to learn the social and behavioral traits of the species.
  • This necessity underscores the urgency of having the first IVF calves born in time to learn from the last two surviving females in Kenya, given their limited lifespan.
Ethical and Resource Allocation Concerns:
  • The BioRescue project, funded by the German government and various public and private donors, has sparked debates on resource allocation and ethics.
  • Critics question whether the project diverts attention and resources from other endangered species that might have a higher chance of survival.
  • Some also argue that focusing on rebuilding the northern white rhino population without addressing threats to its natural habitat could lead to potential challenges in the wild.
Context of Rhino Conservation and Poaching Threats:
  • The northern white rhino faced extinction due to organized hunting for its horns, officially declared extinct in the wild in 2008.
  • The project, initiated in 2015, aims to undo the damage caused by human greed, as one rhino is poached every 16 hours on average in Africa.
  • Critics raise concerns about the urgency to address threats to the natural habitat of endangered species before resorting to technological interventions like IVF.
Conclusion:
  • The revival of the northern white rhino presents a unique intersection of scientific ambition, ethical considerations, and challenges in conservation strategy, highlighting the complexities of resurrecting an extinct species in the face of environmental threats.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance and challenges of the recent breakthrough in achieving the first-ever rhino pregnancy through in vitro fertilization (IVF) for the northern white rhino, a subspecies declared extinct in the wild. (250 words/15 m)

5. Kangaroo lizard species discovered in Western Ghats

Topic: GS3 – Environment and Ecology – Conservation – Species
Relevant for UPSC due to biodiversity conservation, ecological significance, and understanding evolution in the Western Ghats.
Context:
  • Discovery of a new species of tiny lizards, named Agasthyagama edge, in the Western Ghats, known as the “diminutive dragon.”
More about the news:
  • Researchers have discovered a new species of tiny lizards in the Western Ghats, named Agasthyagama edge or northern kangaroo lizard.
  • Belonging to the Agamidae family, it measures up to 4.3 cm in snout-vent length and is primarily terrestrial with a reduced fifth toe, making them poor climbers.
  • This species, the second in the Agasthyagama genus, was found in Kerala’s Idukki district during an expedition in 2015 while searching for the Mahabali frog.
  • Initially thought to be A. beddomii, further analyses revealed consistent morphological and genetic differences, confirming it as a new species.
  • Geographically separated from the closest distributional records by approximately 80 km, the lizard has a uniform olive-brown body and is named after the EDGE programme of the Zoological Society of London.

6. Centre starts survey on participation of women in workforce

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Issues relating to development and employment
Critical for UPSC as it gauges policies impacting women’s workforce participation, aligning with gender issues and economic development.
Context:
  • The Union Ministries of Labour & Employment and Women & Child Development have jointly initiated a survey to evaluate and enhance women’s participation in India’s workforce.
  • Addressing international concerns, the survey explores workplace practices through confidential inquiries.
 More about the news:
  • Union Ministries of Labour & Employment and Women & Child Development initiate a joint survey on increasing women’s participation in the workforce.
  • Announced by Union Minister Smriti Irani, the survey aims to assess the prevalence of women-friendly practices in Indian workplaces.
  • Triggered by concerns raised by international agencies, including the International Labour Organization, about declining women workforce participation in India.
  • Latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data reveals a significant increase in women’s participation from 23.3% in 2017-18 to 37% in 2022-23.
  • The confidential survey focuses on company policies related to sexual harassment prevention, childcare facilities, equal pay, flexible working hours, and late-hour transportation.
Women’s Participation In The Workforce
Data:
  • 20.3% (Periodic Labour Force Survey 2021-22) – This means only 1 in 5 women of working age participate in the labor force.
  • Lost output: Estimated GDP loss of 60% due to underutilized female talent.
  • Recent uptick: Female LFPR increased by 4.2 percentage points in 2022-23, suggesting a possible upward trend.
Advantages:
  • Economic Growth: Increased women’s workforce participation boosts economic growth by expanding the labor market and productivity.
  • Diversity: Enhances workplace diversity, bringing varied perspectives and ideas, fostering innovation and creativity.
  • Skill Utilization: Harnesses a larger pool of talent, utilizing diverse skills and expertise for comprehensive organizational development.
  • Empowerment: Provides financial independence, empowerment, and contributes to breaking gender stereotypes.
Challenges:
  • Gender Bias: Persistent gender stereotypes and biases hinder women’s entry into certain professions and leadership roles.
  • Work-Life Balance: Balancing career and family responsibilities poses a challenge, often resulting in career breaks or part-time employment.
  • Discrimination: Unequal pay, limited promotions, and workplace harassment continue to be barriers for women in the workforce.
  • Social Norms: Societal expectations and norms may discourage women from pursuing certain careers, limiting choices.
Way Forward:
  • Policy Reforms: Implement and strengthen policies promoting gender equality, such as maternity leave, flexible working hours, and anti-discrimination measures.
  • Education and Skill Development: Focus on educating and skill-building for women to enhance employability and break stereotypes in career choices.
  • Corporate Initiatives: Encourage corporate initiatives promoting diversity, equal pay, and family-friendly policies.
  • Awareness Campaigns: Launch awareness campaigns to challenge societal norms and biases, promoting a more inclusive view of women in the workforce.
PYQ: Distinguish between ‘care economy’ and ‘monetised economy’. How can care economy be brought into monetised economy through women empowerment? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2023)
Practice Question: Discuss the challenges hindering women’s workforce participation in India. Propose policy measures and strategies to promote gender inclusivity and overcome these challenges. (250 words/15 m)

7. After four years of survey, India’s snow leopard count put at 718

Topic: GS3 – Environment and Ecology – Conservation – Species
Prelims Perspective- The Snow Leopard Population Assessment holds significance for UPSC prelims as it addresses biodiversity conservation and environmental policy.
Mains Perspective – The Snow Leopard Population Assessment is crucial for UPSC mains as it involves biodiversity conservation, wildlife management, and environmental policies, addressing ecological and sustainable development issues.
Context:
  • Union Minister Bhupender Yadav released a report on Snow leopards in India during the National Board for Wildlife meeting.
  • The Snow Leopard Population Assessment revealed 718 individuals, marking the first comprehensive scientific study of the species in the country.
More about the news:
  • The National Board for Wildlife meeting in New Delhi witnessed the release of a report on the Status of Snow leopards in India by Union Minister Shri Bhupender Yadav.
  • The Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India (SPAI) Program, coordinated by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), revealed a population of 718 Snow leopards, marking the first scientific exercise of its kind.
  • SPAI covered over 70% of the potential snow leopard range across states and UTs like Ladakh, J & K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The two-step framework involved spatial distribution evaluation and abundance estimation using camera traps, deploying 1,971 traps for 180,000 trap nights.
  • Estimated Snow leopard populations in different states include Ladakh (477), Uttarakhand (124), Himachal Pradesh (51), Arunachal Pradesh (36), Sikkim (21), and Jammu and Kashmir (9).
  • The report emphasizes the need for a dedicated Snow Leopard Cell at WII for long-term monitoring and periodic population estimations every four years in the Snow leopard range.
                                      Snow Leopards
  • Snow Leopards (Panthera uncia) are native to the mountainous regions of Central and South Asia, including the Himalayas.
  • Classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, they face threats such as poaching, habitat loss, and retaliatory killings by herders.
  • Their habitat spans 12 countries, and conservation efforts often involve international collaboration due to their wide-ranging nature.
  • Snow Leopards are adapted to high altitudes, with thick fur, large nasal cavities, and a long tail for balance in rugged terrain.
  • They play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling herbivore populations.
  • Conservation initiatives focus on community-based approaches, engaging local communities in protecting the species and its habitat.
  • Initiatives like the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP) aim to secure at least 20 snow leopard landscapes.
  • The Indian government’s Project Snow Leopard addresses conservation and sustainable development in the Indian Himalayan region.

8. India nominates 12 forts of Marathas for UNESCO World Heritage List

Topic: GS1 – Indian History – Indian Culture – Architecture
UPSC candidates need to understand the historical and cultural significance of Maratha Military Landscapes for India’s UNESCO World Heritage nomination.
Context:
  • India nominates “Maratha Military Landscapes of India” for UNESCO World Heritage recognition in 2024-25.
  • Twelve forts, representing Maratha military prowess, showcase diverse terrains and architectural significance from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  • More about the news:
  • The “Maratha Military Landscapes of India” is India’s nomination for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the year 2024-25.
  • The nomination includes twelve component parts distributed across diverse geographical and physiographic regions, showcasing the strategic military powers of the Maratha rule.
  • The nominated components are Salher fort, Shivneri fort, Lohgad, Khanderi fort, Raigad, Rajgad, Pratapgad, Suvarnadurg, Panhala Fort, Vijaydurg, Sindhudurg in Maharashtra, and Gingee Fort in Tamil Nadu.
  • These military landscapes developed between the 17th and 19th centuries and represent an extraordinary fortification and military system envisioned by the Maratha rulers.
  • The forts are situated in various terrains such as the Sahyadri mountain ranges, the Konkan Coast, Deccan Plateau, and the Eastern Ghats in the Indian Peninsula.
  • There are more than 390 forts in Maharashtra, and only 12 have been selected under the Maratha Military Landscapes of India.
  • The forts vary in types, such as hill forts, hill-forest fort, hill-plateau fort, and coastal and island forts.
  • The Maratha Military ideology dates back to the 17th century during the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and continued through subsequent rules until the Peshwa rule in 1818 CE.
  • At present, India has 42 World Heritage sites, with 34 cultural sites, seven natural sites, and one mixed site.
  • Maharashtra has six World Heritage Sites, including Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, and the Western Ghats.
  • The Maratha Military Landscapes of India is the sixth cultural property nominated for inclusion in the World Heritage List from Maharashtra.
                             UNESCO World Heritage List
  • The UNESCO World Heritage List is a prestigious catalog that recognizes and preserves cultural and natural sites of outstanding universal value.
  • Established in 1972 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the list aims to safeguard and promote diverse cultural and natural heritage worldwide.
  • The list includes over 1,100 sites across the globe.
  • Cultural sites on the list range from ancient monuments and historic cities to traditional landscapes and intangible cultural practices.
  • Natural sites encompass exceptional ecosystems, landscapes, and geological formations, highlighting Earth’s biodiversity and geological significance.
  • Some notable examples of World Heritage Sites include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramids of Egypt, and the Acropolis in Greece.
  • Inclusion on the list often enhances global recognition, tourism, and preservation efforts for these significant sites.
  • Countries play a crucial role in nominating and managing their designated World Heritage Sites, working in collaboration with UNESCO to ensure their protection for future generations.

9. Astronomers spot unusual object that falls within the black hole “mass gap”.

Topic: GS3 – Science and technology – Space Critical for UPSC: Explores astrophysical boundaries, neutron stars, black holes, and complex celestial phenomena, enhancing knowledge in physics and astronomy.
Context:
  • The article discusses an astronomical discovery reported in Science, involving an enigmatic system in the star cluster NGC 1851.
  • It focuses on a millisecond pulsar and a dark companion, challenging existing astrophysical understanding, with ongoing efforts to identify their nature.
Unexplained Celestial Discovery:
  • A recent astronomical discovery, reported in Science, presents an object challenging current understanding, likely to stimulate discussion and speculation.
Neutron Stars and Black Hole Transition:
  • Neutron stars, extremely dense, as large as a city but as compact as an atomic nucleus, may collapse to form even denser black holes.
  • The study focuses on the physics at the boundary between neutron stars and black holes.
NGC 1851E System in Star Cluster:
  • Located in the star cluster NGC 1851, the system involves a millisecond pulsar (rapidly spinning neutron star) and a massive, dark companion.
  • The dark companion, invisible across all light frequencies, presents a challenge for traditional study methods.
Role of Millisecond Pulsar:
  • Millisecond pulsars act as cosmic atomic clocks with stable spins, allowing precise measurements over time.
  • Observations using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa helped detail the orbits of the objects in the NGC 1851E system.
Mass and Density Measurements:
  • The system’s weight, nearly four times that of the Sun, and the compact, dense nature of the dark companion were observed.
  • Mass distribution modeling using Einstein’s general relativity places the companion’s mass in the “black hole mass gap.”
Potential Scenario:
  • An intriguing possibility is that the system results from a pulsar orbiting remnants of a collision between two neutron stars.
  • The mechanism involves a crowded stellar environment, where neutron stars in close proximity collide, leading to the creation of a black hole.
Ongoing Research and Identification:
  • Efforts are ongoing to conclusively identify the true nature of the companion—whether the lightest black hole or the most massive neutron star.
  • The NGC 1851E system offers immense promise for understanding extreme matter environments in the universe.

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