Human Rights Of Cotton Farmers Environmental Sciences Essay
It has been estimated that on average every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide in India, which means more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in since 1995 in India  . According to the Veteran journalist P. Sainath, it is the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history. The rate of suicide is highest amongst the cotton farmers. In India the cotton industry is strongly dominated by Transnational Agro-chemical Corporations which promote genetically modified cottonseed and also control the cost, quality and availability of these seeds. Bt Cotton is the first ever GM crop introduced and commercialized in India in March 2002 with the approval of three Bt-cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation. These transgenic hybrids were developed by MAHYCO (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Limited) in collaboration with Monsanto and ever since, Bt Cotton has dominated the cotton industry. According to Dr. Vandana Shiva, the rate of farmer suicides increased alarmingly due to Monsanto's contributions to an increase in the price per kilogram of cotton seeds from 7 to 17,000 rupees.  As a result small farmers were trapped in a vicious circle of insurmountable debt, leading many of these farmers to commit suicide out of sheer desperation, which they did by consuming “roundup” the very cancerous pesticide produced by Monsanto. This has been branded as GM Genocide.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the human rights of cotton farmers abused by Monsanto in India, Monsanto’s complicity, the legal liability of these Transnational Agro-chemical Corporations for committing such gross violations and legal remedies available to redress these violations.
What is Monsanto?
Monsanto was founded in 1901. Its headquarters are in Missouri, USA and has over 400 facilities in 66 countries. It generated net sales that amounted to more than US$11.8 billion in 2011.  Monsanto is currently the leading source of genetically modified (GM) crop. 
Originally it used to manufacture chemicals but as it grew, Monsanto started producing artificial sweeteners for food companies (Saccharin for Coca-Cola), agro-chemicals like DDT,  toxic PCBs  for industries, components of Agent Orange  for the military, and bovine growth hormone.  In 1940s it was one of the top US chemical companies. Monsanto shifted its focus to genetic modification processes during 1980-90s and later in mid-1990s its GM crops became commercialised, and Monsanto became the global dominator in the sale of seeds by acquiring major seed companies. In 2005 Monsanto became the world’s largest seed company, providing the technology for 90% of GM crops around the world.  Monsanto controls 27% of the global seed market.  Monsanto genetically modifies seeds like soy, cotton, maize etc.
Monsanto’s domination has also resulted in its regime of aggressive implementation of patent rights. Farmers who purchase its GM seeds are compelled to sign agreements which ban them from saving seeds and replanting them. Breach of this agreement can result in a legal action against farmers.
Monsanto also produces a bestselling herbicide spray called Roundup which is specifically developed to be compatible with its GM seed varieties. It was launched in 1976 and helped make Monsanto the world's largest producer of herbicides. However, Roundup has been associated with serious illnesses and birth defects: communities living in the surrounding area of monoculture GM crop plantations have been ruined with poisoned lands and major health problems, like cancer. 
Monsanto and other agro-chemical corporations claim that GM crops are an answer to hunger, carbon storage and the effects of changes in climate including drought and flooding – even though trials have repeatedly failed. Moreover, there is no evidence that GM crops have higher yields than non-GM crops,  and that they are drought/flood resistant.  Nor do GM crops store more carbon in soils due to decreased tillage or the ‘no-till’ methods associated with GM crops and pesticides. 
Monsanto in India
In 1949 Monsanto chemicals of India Ltd (MCIL), a subsidiary of Monsanto Co. USA was incorporated on as a private limited Company at Mumbai, India and was converted into a public limited company on 1st July, 1978.  In 2000 MCIL changed its name to Monsanto India LTD to change its focus from chemicals to herbicides, seeds and traits. Its first production unit for pesticide formulations was established in Lonavla, Maharashtra in early 1970s. In 1997, MCIL opened a new plant in Silvassa for manufacturing herbicides. 
Its other establishments are Monsanto Holdings Pvt. Ltd. (MHPL) and Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB). MHPL is a 100% wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto Company; and 26% Stake in Mahyco. MMB is 50:50 a joint-venture between Mahyco and MHPL. Both the companies are focused on marketing Bollgard Bt Cotton seeds and Bollgard technologies in India. Its US parent company has a total controlling or strategic holding of 74.66%, with the remainder in the hands of Indian individuals and mutual funds. 
Recently, Monsanto has adopted a new strategy to expand the reach of their crops, through public-private partnerships (PPP) with state governments in India. Several state governments, such as Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, have signed memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with Monsanto.  Monsanto’s global annual turnover is around $11 billion and India is its 8th largest market. India was also the 1st country where Monsanto got listed outside the US. 
Till now Bt cotton is the only commercialized and approved GM crop introduced and sold by Monsanto in India. India has the largest cotton area in the world and cotton contributes around 30% to agricultural GDP  every year. Agriculture as whole contributes around 17% the GDP and around 64% of the population is employed in agriculture. Significant percentages of these farmers rely on subsistence farming or are small scale farmers. Subsistence and Small scale farmers are the ones who are the largest consumers of Bt cotton in India.  Bt cotton plantings in India reached 10.6 million hectares, i.e., 88% of 12.1 million hectare cotton crop and currently, it is planted by 7 million or more farmers. 
Monsanto was also conducting field trials on its other GM crops in India like brinjal (eggplant), maize, groundnut, mustard, papaya, potato, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, tomato and watermelon.  In October 2012, the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India unanimously imposed “a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all Bt crops, based on the overall status of current food safety evaluations for these crops (including data on Bt cotton and Bt eggplant) and a moratorium on field trials of herbicide-tolerant crops until an independent assessment has evaluated its "impact" and "suitability".” 
Bt Cotton and Its Impacts
Bt cotton is the cottonseed which is dominating the Indian cotton industry, right now, it is sold by Monsanto in India. It is also known as Bollgard. Bt cotton is genetically modified and it produces a toxin within the seed that kills a very common pest known as cotton bollworm, that affects the cotton crops in India. It promises a yield of 1500kg/year but the recent reports depict that farmers only receive a yield of 300-400 kg/year on average which is even less than the yield received from non-GM seeds. Bt cotton requires two resources that are very scarce for most of the small-scale farmers in India, i.e., money and water.
Dr. Vandana Shiva mentions that “Bt-cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous or non-GM cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the bollworm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500 kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average."
Two research views exist regarding Bt cotton:
“Bt cotton farmers have higher yields and higher returns, and their practice is considered better to the environment than conventional cotton growers”  , and
“Bt cotton farmers have lower yields and lower returns and impose greater damage to the environment relative to conventional cotton”  .
Bt Cotton has various impacts which shall be discussed as following:
1. Impact On farmers: According to Smita Narula, the cost of Bt Cotton seeds is between two times to ten times as much as regular non-GM cottonseed would, and they also require more than usual amount of irrigation in order to yield successful crops. The farmers borrow money from private moneylenders, who lend money at inflated interest rates, to purchase the seeds, on the promises and based on insistent-marketing that they will bring greater financial security. Around 65% of cotton farms in India depend on rain water for irrigation and don’t have any other source of irrigation, so the crops inevitably fail. Recent increase in droughts has made it worse for many farmers and as a result, these farmers get buried under insurmountable debts to purchase the seeds. They don’t have the yields. This cycle is repeated for a couple of seasons and by the end of it, they’re simply caught in a vicious cycle that they can’t get out of, and they end up committing suicide, usually by consuming the very pesticide/herbicide(Roundup) they had purchased. 
Bt cotton has been known to be affected by new pests and diseases and sometimes has failed to be protected from the bollworm.  In the study conducted by ISIS (2005), Bt cotton is said to unsuitable for developing countries like India as it causes negative impacts on the small-scale farming and subsistence farmers. The study provided that Bt cotton is totally unsuccessful in India and that the non-Bt cotton farmers earned 60% higher income than Bt cotton farmers due to the damage caused by root rotting disease which results in nearly 30% less yield than non-Bt cotton yield.
2. Impact on Humans: Humans are also gradually coming under the toxic grasp of BT cotton allergy and possible poisoning according to Dr. Sudhir Kumar Kaura’s report. Many farmers, labourers (including children) etc. who go out in Bt cotton farms for labour or attend to animals and handle BT cotton seeds/oilcakes as a part of animal feed, are experiencing itching and allergy symptoms including white patches, boils (like smallpox), itching, redness etc. on whole of body especially on chest, back, neck, hands, and even in private parts. These labourers do not earn much, they earn around 1 or 2 USD per day or for couple days cannot afford the expensive medicines or medical treatment for these allergies etc.
Monsanto also produces Roundup, the herbicide specifically manufactured for its GM crops, it contains Glyphosate and is sold without providing enough knowledge to the illiterate farmers and labourers. It is known to cause serious illness and cancerous effects on humans and has lead to the death and serious illness of lot of Bt Cotton farmers and labourers. Glyphosate is toxic and it contaminates the DNA, which can result in cancer and cell-mutation.
3. Impact on Animals: According to Dr Sudhir Kumar Kaura, a Biotechnologist and Plant Geneticist, BT cotton also contains Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN)  . Animals like buffaloes, cows, sheep, goats etc. in North India are dying or becoming unproductive and infertile. North India and other states of India where oilcakes (prepared from BT Cotton Seeds) form a major feed content and these oilcakes are said to contain HCN according to the reports of the government laboratories in the state of Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh thousands of sheep died after feeding on BT cotton some years back. 
Roundup has toxic effects on animals as well and has led to death of the farmer’s cattle.
4. Impact on Land/Soil: A study in 1995  reported that glyphosate contained in Roundup herbicide, negatively impacts the health and viability of nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. Nitrogen which is essential for life but the farms which have been heavily sprayed with roundup gets contaminated and the farm’s soil looses the nitrogen fixing bacteria and therefore, this diminishes the fertility and plant growth.
GM Genocide: Death of 300,000 Farmers in South India
More than a decade ago, in exchange for loans from International Monetary Fund, India allowed Monsanto to commercialize its Bt cottonseeds and it also encouraged farmers to abandon the non-GM cottonseeds and buy Monsanto’s Bt Cottonseeds. Indian government and Monsanto promised and convinced the farmers that Bt cotton would give them higher yields and increase their incomes; plus it will also lower reduce their use of pesticide as Bt cotton is bollworm resistant. Over the past 16 years, it has been estimated that around 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide as the promises made to them by Monsanto and the government were broken. The price of the cotton seeds used to be 7 Rs/kg but Bt cottonseeds were priced at 17,000 Rs/kg the prices over thousand percent higher. Farmers could not afford to buy these seeds and had to borrow money from the private moneylenders at the exorbitant high interests. Moreover, Bt cotton requires thorough irrigation for best results and significant number of farmers depend on rains for irrigation, without irrigation Bt cotton did yield as high as promised and their crops failed. Not only were the promises made to the farmers broken but moreover farmers were under a lot debt which they could not pay off as the average income of a farmer is 45 Rs to 90 Rs per day or in most of the cases for a couple of days or more. Bt cotton seeds are monoculture seeds unlike the traditional cotton seeds. Farmers had to buy more seeds again and again every season as the varieties of Bt cotton seeds in india by Monsanto are the ones which do not reproduce seeds. Every season the farmers would sow the Bt cottonseeds and would get disappointed. Mostly these farmers belonged to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and all of them depend on rain water irrigation system, some of them even took loans to install tube wells but still couldn’t repay their loans. Small-scale farmers and the subsistence agriculture farmers are the ones who bought Bt cottonseeds. So, these farmers were stuck in a vicious circle of debts they could not pay off and as a result they committed suicide, mostly by hanging or drinking the Roundup herbicide which is also manufactured by Monsanto. This not only affected the economy and agriculture but also more than 1.5 million dependents/family members of the farmers who committed suicide. Till now this is the largest recorded rate of suicides in history. 
In the year 2009, around 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2009 which means that every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide in India.  “According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), at least 14,027 farmers committed suicide in 2011”.  However, these numbers are not completely correct, as the suicide toll in Chhattisgarh, which has been one of the worst states for farmers’ suicide deaths for several years (1126 in 2010), shows zero deaths in 2011.  P. Sainath says, “It could be that Chhattisgarh’s figures have simply not made it to the NCRB in time.” The state of Maharashtra, which is the native state of the union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, is the worst affected state with 3,337 farmers’ suicide deaths in 2011 against 3,141 in 2010 (and 2872 in 2009).  This agrarian issue has been widely reported but nothing has been done about the issue.
Factors behind the GM Genocide
Suicide is a delicate issue and an individual act, suicidal behavior is determined by a number of individual and social factors. Some of these factors which can be determined from the previous discussion are Poverty and Insurmountable debts; money borrowed from private moneylenders at exorbitant rates, Illiteracy and lack of information, No co-operation from government and no subsidies provided, Monsanto’s Complicity, High Prices of Seeds, No sources for irrigation for most of the farmers, Aggressive intellectual property rights protection, Depression, No adequate means of livelihood etc.
Whose Fault is it: Government or Monsanto?
Both government and Monsanto are liable for the deaths of these farmers. The government and Monsanto had campaigned together to persuade farmers to give up traditional cotton seeds which were cheaper and reliable and use Bt cottonseeds which were 1000 percent costlier and unreliable. Both government and Monsanto made big promises to the farmers and took unfair advantage of their lack of resources and knowledge for higher profits. The government should have helped farmers and given them loans at lower interest rates and should have also given them subsidies. Monsanto should also have made sure that it gave complete information and supervision to the farmers using their seeds. Monsanto only aimed for profits and nothing else and therefore sold its seeds at extremely inflated prices. Moreover, every corporation should perform corporate social responsibility (CSR) however in this case it can be seen that they did not perform CSR nor did they help the farmers or their families in any way.
Some people argue that putting the blame of mass farmer suicides on Monsanto is cheap and disingenuous as the trend of high farmer suicides in India started much before GM crops were introduced and has not changed much since their introduction. Whereas, GM crops were illegally introduced in Gujarat areas way before Bt cotton was approved and commercialized in India. Monsanto should have performed a due diligence report on the nature of agricultural economy and its state like most of the TNC’s do. Monsanto knew all along that they are setting up business in an economy where significant part of agriculture are subsistence farmers and small scale farmers and they are very poor and they still knowingly, sold the Bt cottonseeds at really high prices which the farmers could not afford without taking loans. They should have introduced the seeds at more economical rates and as well should have got some NGOs involved in helping the farmers and advise them. Monsanto should have lobbied with the Indian Government to provide subsidies to such farmers.
It can be seen that Monsanto is silently complicit and responsible for the deaths of these farmers and harm done to their family members. Monsanto has systematically abused the human rights of farmers and their families in India.
It is surprising that legal actions are only being taken against the government and its officials and not against Monsanto. Monsanto should be sued in India for infringing the Human Rights of farmers and their families through writ petitions and Public interest litigations (PIL). Moreover, farmers should fight for their rights against Monsanto in the national human Rights Commission of India. PIL’s and write petitions are being filed against Monsanto for Bio-piracy and for ban of field trials of other GM crops but why not against infringement of human rights?
However, it is difficult to sue the American agro-chemical TNCs in India or in the home country ever since the Bhopal Gas Tragedy  case. As the case has still not been decided in India there is no precedent to hold an agro-chemical TNC liable in india for their Human right abuses and its difficult to sue them in US under the Alien Torts Statute  as the Bhopal gas tragedy case was rejected from being heard under the principle of forum non conveniens and which implies that the rest of the cases might get rejected too.
However, Permanent Peoples Tribunal  (PPT)’s recent decision  might change this situation. In this case communities from all over the world accused the 6 largest pesticide manufacturing companies in the world, known as the “Big Six,”(i.e., BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Sygenta) of infringing human rights. These agro-chemical TNCs have small and large-scale agriculture and peasant farmers and communities worldwide in their grip. PPT heard the cases from all over the world which included “individuals suffering health effects from exposure to pesticides, small farmers resisting the pressure to use GMOs, communities devastated by pesticide contamination, how the agrochemical TNCs’ forceful power and influence violates the rights of people to their health, livelihood, food sovereignty and the rights of children women, indigenous people, to a safe environment and to the very right to life itself.”  The PPT found Big six guilty of systematic  human rights abuse. PPT has urged the governments to take action to prevent further harm and also made a set of recommendations for the governments and international organisations. 
How is Monsanto Complicit in Abusing Human Rights of Farmers?
According to Professor Ruggie’s Report  , every TNC has a duty of Corporate Social Responsibility, which also includes the responsibility to respect the human rights. The responsibility to respect human rights exists independently of the State’s duties and it also includes avoiding complicity. If TNCs fail to respect human rights or are complicit, a legal action can be taken against them in the court.
A TNC is said to be Complicit when it is indirectly involved in human rights abuses, i.e., where the actual harm is committed by another party (like governments and non-State actors). One of the main requirements of complicity is actual knowledge (direct or circumstantial), or the “should have known” standard. This standard requires that a company is reasonably expected to be aware of its actions or omissions would contribute to violation of human rights even when company is merely carrying out its normal business activities, following orders, complying with contractual obligations, complying with national laws etc. it cannot be guaranteed with legal protection if those activities have contributed to the infringement of human rights and the company knew or should have known about its contribution. 
To avoid Complicity and to conduct Corporate Social Responsibility, it is necessary for TNCs to conduct Due Diligence which means that the TNCs are required to “be aware of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts”. The Due Diligence process requires TNCs to consider three sets of factors, i.e., they need to highlight any specific human right challenges they might face in the country they intend to pursue business activities. Secondly, they need to highlight any human right impacts their own activities might have for example, in their capacity as producers, service providers, employers, and neighbours. Lastly, they need to consider if they might result in abuse through the relationships connected to their activities, such as with business partners, suppliers, State agencies, and other non-State actors.  Professor John Ruggie in his report mentions that the scope of due diligence depends on the prospective and actual human rights impacts resulting from a company’s business activities and the relationships associated with those activities and not on the proximity. 
In this case, it can be seen that Monsanto has a Corporate Social Responsibility towards the Bt Cotton farmers and their families, as they are affected by its business and activities. Monsanto has clearly avoided its responsibility of respecting the human rights of farmers by being complicit and conducting business in the zone where trends of farmers suicides was high and their activities sky-rocketed the rates of suicides even more( highest in the human history). They were silent about it and continued deriving benefits from it. Monsanto abused the following human rights of farmers and their families:
Right to life, liberty and security of the person. 
Right to an adequate standard of living. 
Right to Occupation. 
Right to Food. 
Right to Water. 
Right to physical and mental health; access to medical services. 
Right to information 
Right to Social Security 
Right to benefits from scientific progress. 
Child Labour  58
Right to Equality and non-discrimination 
Right to work in safe environment 
Right to an effective remedy 
Environmental destruction( contamination of crops, soil, cattle) 
Moreover, Monsanto’s website shows that Monsanto has been carrying out CSR activities and is even winning awards for it. Their CSR activities involve teaching sustainable development and sustainable agriculture to the farmers in the states of Maharashtra. Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, Flood relief and rehabilitation with ADS, Alternative economic development project with SEED, Equipping teachers to provide quality education to rural children with Bharti Foundation, Improving sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health with United Way of Mumbai, Literacy enhancement project with Sikshana Foundation etc.  However, none of its CSR activities are being carried out to rehabilitate the families of the farmers who committed suicide; nor are its activities concerned with providing better technological equipment, resources, information, redressal system, mental health units etc to the farmers using Bt cotton.
Legal Liability of Monsanto under Indian Law
Monsanto can be held liable under various Indian laws and statutes, like The Constitution of India  , Criminal Law  , Law of Torts, Companies Act  , Environmental Laws etc. Under the Constitution of India Monsanto can be sued for violating Fundamental Rights of life and liberty, Equality and non-discrimination, Right to Occupation, Food, Water and Health, Legal aid, unpolluted environment and for employing Child Labour. These rights can be enforced by filing Writ petition under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. It can also be held liable under torts law for negligence, nuisance and strict/absolute liability, constitutional torts etc. Environment laws like Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) in 1986 etc. can be used to hold Monsanto liable for environmental destruction.
Legal Remedies available to redress the Farmers
There are various legal remedies available for the redressal of farmers and their families, like damages and injunctions  , criminal sanctions  , Writ Petitions, Public Interest Litigation. The victims can also file human right abuse complaints with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and NHRC shall take appropriate measures to protect the human rights of these victims. NHRC may also enquire into such human right abuses on the request by the court. Community based mechanisms like Lok Adalats  are also used to encounter such Human right issues in India.
Legal and Procedural Obstacles faced by Farmers
Even though so many legal mechanisms are available to sue Monsanto for Human right abuses against farmers and their families it is still difficult to sue them because of various reasons like, corruption and delay in judicial process, lack of information and ignorance of one’s rights and indifference towards another right. Litigation against such transnational companies can be expensive and the farmers do not have enough funds to afford the litigation fee. Even though legal aid is available, farmers usually are not aware of it.
Another major reason is that the laws are old and not amended from time to time, and it gets difficult to file suits under new circumstances. Even the tort law in India is underdeveloped and it is still not possible to file mass tort cases in India. Moreover, it is also difficult to criminally prosecute a company in India and to pierce the corporate veil.
For the Government
Investigate Monsanto’s contribution in infringement of human rights of farmers and their families with a help of a special committee, which should also look into Monsanto’s contribution in sky-rocketing the suicide rate of cotton farmers in India.
Take action against Monsanto by filing writ petitions and PILs.
Establish a better, effective and efficient redressal system for such farmers and their families.
Prosecute Monsanto in terms of criminal liability rather than civil liability. 
Take action to restructure international law so as to make Monsanto and similar TNCs accountable for their activities and products. 
“Accept a less heavy burden of proof on the victims and to fully commit to and legislate for the precautionary principle”. 
Prevent Monsanto and similar TNCs from “directly or indirectly harassing and intimidating scientists, farmers and human rights and environmental defenders, in any form, including judicial harassment”. 
Design Compensation fund schemes for such farmers and their families.
Make FDI policies for agricultural sector more stringent.
Respect human rights by ensuring that their products and services they provide do not infringe on the human rights of Indian farmers. 
Exercise continuous due diligence by assessing and monitoring the human rights impacts of their products and services from time to time. 
Take steps to address situations where human rights impacts are discovered, including by revising their practices to take account of the human rights of Indian farmers. 
Involve in CSR activities which help in rehabilitation of families of cotton farmers who committed suicide. Provide better technological equipment, resources, information, redressal system, mental health units etc to the farmers using Bt cotton.
Give them correct information and spread awareness through better modes. Due to high illiteracy rates amongst these farmers, even though the information is provided on packaging they might not be well informed.
Deaths of these farmers have long gone unnoticed; it is very unfortunate for India that despite having all the legal mechanisms available to encounter this evil in our society no necessary or effective steps have been yet taken. No legal action has been taken against Monsanto for systematically abusing the Human rights of farmers and their families nor has the redressal system been used in an effective way to provide justice to these farmers. Agro-Chemical TNC’s like Monsanto should not be allowed to go scot free and conduct business activities in any manner they like, they should be penalised for being complicit and should take their social responsibility towards the farmers and their families more seriously.
India’s economy depends majorly on agriculture sector. These cotton farmers might be poor but they are the backbone of the Indian economy. It is high time that we stop this GM Genocide and save the Indian economy by protecting the human rights of the farmers and rehabilitate them. The longer justice will be denied, higher their death toll will rise.
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