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Land Reforms in India

Land Reforms in India
At the time of Independence
Land ownership was highly unequal at the time of Independence. There was a parasitic class of intermediaries who played no role in production. On the other hand, the vast majority of actual cultivators were either tenants or subtenants, without any security of tenure. 
The Indian Independence (Adaptation of Central Acts and Ordinances) Order, 1948, adopted the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 after replacing the words “the whole of British India” with “all the provinces of India.” The British-era act was used in the same form for several decades.

Objectives of Land Reforms in India
The objectives of economic planning and land reforms in India were to achieve maximum production and to attain a measure of social justice. They further seeked to reduce economic inequalities and avoid concentration of economic power and to prevent exploitation of the under privileged classes. 
Even before independence it was widely recognized that main cause of stagnation in the economy was due to the stagnation in the agricultural structure and that stagnation came to a large extent by the exploitative nature in agrarian relation. The chief instrument of exploitation was the Zamindars. It was on account of this reason that not only was the desirability of bringing about changes in agrarian relation accepted but was adopted as a kingpin of land reform policy.
Provisions for Security of tenure and regulation of rent were adopted. In several States, provision was made for bringing the tenant into the direct relationship with the state and conferring on him the rights of ownership in areas where intermediary tenures did not obtain. As result about 3 million tenants and shore croppers acquired ownership more than 7 million acres.
With a view to enlarging the size of land holding; consolidation of uneconomic holdings was undertaken and substantial progress was made in this connection in Punjab, Haryana, U.P., Maharashtra and H. P. Measures have also been initiated for the prevention of fragmentation.

Opposition to Land Reforms
In the states of UP, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Madras, Bihar and Bombay the respective state governments enacted legislative measures to abolish landed intermediaries. Most of this legislation was enacted by 1950. 
The primary model for discussion was the United Provinces Zamindari Abolition Committee report. Submitted in 1948 under the chairmanship of G. B. Pant, this report signalled the last days of landed intermediaries. The Zamindari Abolition Committee argued that a typical zamindar had invested little capital in increasing production and was not “an organiser of agricultural activities in the sense in which an industrialist or a businessman is”. Cultivators, on the other hand, lacked the incentive to improve the land under a rental system. 
This did not, however, necessarily mean that the agrarian structure had really become more rational and equitable. All attempts to implement these measures had been reduced to the level of mere rhetoric and had failed to become reality.
With the introduction of zamindari abolition bills in various states, the zamindars too began to take action. They challenged such legislative acts in the Indian courts and often the courts came to the defence of the landlords. To overcome these legal entanglements the government of India amended the Indian constitution to pave the way for implementation of these legislative measures. 
It was in 1957 that the Standing Committee of the National Development Council presided over by the Prime Minister agreed to push for promulgating legislative measures for fixing the upper limit of land holdings.
With limited success in the abolition of landed intermediaries, legislation for imposing ceilings on holdings began in the 1950s. Christened as the Land Ceiling Act and enacted in several states, in its structure and process it followed a common pattern. Most of the Indian states had passed ceiling Acts by 1961. The primary intention of the Act was equitable distribution of land to the landless by fixing a ceiling on the holdings of agricultural land.
Ceiling laws were enacted and enforced in two phases. The first phase covered the period from 1960 to 1972. During this period, apart from the legal challenges, implementation of the ceiling act suffered from major weaknesses. For instance, the classes of land that were exempted from the operation of ceiling laws varied widely in the states. 
The legislative measures also had loop-holes. The latter was used by the bigger landed interests to evade the laws. Again, in anticipation of the ceilings, the big land holders partitioned their holdings. Such partitioned land was fictitiously transferred in pieces to other individuals through illegal transfers on a very large scale.

Implementation of Land Reforms
Abolition of Zamindari
In the states of UP, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Madras, Bihar and Bombay the respective state governments enacted legislative measures to abolish landed intermediaries. Most of this legislation was enacted by 1950. The primary model for discussion was the United Provinces Zamindari Abolition Committee report. Submitted in 1948 under the chairmanship of G. B. Pant, this report signalled the last days of landed intermediaries. 
The Zamindari Abolition Committee argued that a typical zamindar had invested little capital in increasing production and was not “an organiser of agricultural activities in the sense in which an industrialist or a businessman is”. Cultivators, on the other hand, lacked the incentive to improve the land under a rental system. The Committee argued that the removal of intermediaries between the tiller of the soil and the State would in itself go a good way towards the rehabilitation of agriculture. Thus, what was envisaged was an agrarian economy based on peasant proprietorship, towards which goal the state was deemed to be moving.

Tenancy reform
Despite some form of implementation of zamindari abolition measures, tenancy remained a troublesome issue inside the previously intermediary controlled areas. Not only that, the practice of landlordism was rampant even inside the Ryotwari areas. 
It was in this context that tenurial security became a matter of serious concern for various state governments. Legislative measures aimed at securing tenancy rights and curtailing the rights of the landlords were quickly put in place despite strong opposition from the landlords and other social groups. These tenancy reforms incorporated three broad issues. First, they tried to ensure tenancy rights to those tenants who had been cultivating certain plots of land for a certain period. The length of this duration differed from region to region. 
Secondly, it also sought a reduction in the rents paid by the tenants. It was estimated that the most reasonable level of rent would be between one-fourth to one-sixth of the gross produce. Finally, tenancy reform also paved the way for tenants to acquire ownership of the land they cultivated. Granting of such ownership was qualified and depended on several pre-conditions like cultivating a plot of land for a continuous period of twelve years. The government of India, on the eve of fourth five year plan, claimed that approximately 3 million tenants and sharecroppers had acquired ownership of 7 million acres of land in the country.

Pushing for an upper limit in land holding
It is generally agreed that the idea of fixing the upper limit of land holdings of individual landlords began to gain ground in the 1940s. 
In 1946 the All India Kisan Sabha movement argued for fixing the upper limit of the landlords at 25 acres. In 1947 the All India Congress Committee (AICC) also began to articulate its views on issues of upper limit for land holding. A committee under the chairmanship of J. L. Nehru recommended the adoption of a maximum size of the landholding. Later, in 1949, the AICC’s Agrarian Reform Committee, which was chaired by J. C. Kumarapa, suggested that such a fixation should be done at three times higher than a standard economic holding. 
The idea of upper limit finally received an institutional framework in the framing of First Five Year plan. The plan suggested that the exact size of the upper limit should be fixed by the states themselves. 
With limited success in the abolition of landed intermediaries, legislation for imposing ceilings on holdings began in the 1950s. Christened as the Land Ceiling Act and enacted in several states, in its structure and process it followed a common pattern. Most of the Indian states had passed ceiling Acts by 1961. The primary intention of the Act was equitable distribution of land to the landless by fixing a ceiling on the holdings of agricultural land.
Ceiling laws were enacted and enforced in two phases. The first phase covered the period from 1960 to 1972. During this period, apart from the legal challenges, implementation of the ceiling act suffered from major weaknesses. For instance, the classes of land that were exempted from the operation of ceiling laws varied widely in the states. 
The legislative measures also had loop-holes. The latter was used by the bigger landed interests to evade the laws. Again, in anticipation of the ceilings, the big land holders partitioned their holdings. Such partitioned land was fictitiously transferred in pieces to other individuals through illegal transfers on a very large scale.
The scope of the entire ceiling legislation was examined by the Central Land Reforms Committee. The committee made certain recommendations that were considered by the Chief Ministers of the states in their Conference held in July 1972. In July 1972 the AICC adopted new guidelines for implementing ceiling Acts in the country. These ‘national guidelines’ were to govern ceiling legislation in the future. The post 1972 ceiling legislation has been rationalized and put more or less on a uniform basis throughout the country based on the national guidelines. The se

Consolidation of Holdings
Due to growth of population, land has to be split into various small holdings. Thus the lands were divided into small patches and scattered over a large area. The poor farmers have to lose considerable amount of bullock and human energy moving from one plot of land to another. Further, it is impossible to adopt modern scientific cultivation in tiny pieces of land. Modern machinery like tractors, pump sets cannot be applied to those small pieces.
The division of agricultural households also increases the cost of cultivation as each of the households has to maintain bul1ocks, equipment and spend more times for supervision of scattered plots. Al1 these have adversely affected our agricultural productivity. Therefore, the Govt. has tried to consolidate the holding through laws. Consolidation of holding aims at bringing together the smal1 scattered pieces of land into compact units. 
However, only one thirds of the total cultivable land have been so far consolidated. The consolidation work has been ful1y completed in Punjab and Haryana. The progress is satisfactory in U.P., Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and J&K. The work is underway in Orissa and M.P. The programme is yet to be started in many states. 

Cooperative joint farming
The term means a kind of farming operations where agricultural practices were conducted by individuals on their own holdings jointly with certain common agencies formed on their behalf for the collection and purchase of agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers, equipment’s etc. and also for the sale of their agricultural produce.
This is a kind of co-operative farming societies available in India. It refers to “Co-operative holding of the land with cultivation on individual holding as before. The individuals hold their plots of land on payment of rent to their own co-operative society.”
But in real sense, Co-operative farming refers to farming practices where farming operations are conducted co-operatively. In this type of farming, small individual holdings are merged into a common unit and accordingly such farm is managed– on co-operative basis.
In respect of co-operative joint farming, individuals retain their ownership of respective plots of land and distribute the income of the farm among the members on the basis of the size and value of the plot along with their other contributions.
In India, majority of the holdings are too small. About 76.4 per cent of the total holdings in India are below the size of 2 hectares and on these again 28.8 per cent of total operated area is engaged into these marginal and small holdings. The average area operated in the case of marginal farms is 0.4 hectares and in case of small farms, it is about 1.4 hectares only. Cultivation in such small holdings is uneconomic and unprofitable. 
Under such a situation if these marginal and small holdings can be consolidated and if the small and marginal farmers pool their land, resources and other inputs and then start cultivating their land jointly by forming a co-operative, they can get the benefits of large scale farming. This type of farming is known as co-operative farming.
In a co-operative farming the following features are relevant:
1. Joining of the farmers in this system is voluntary;
2. Farmers retain their right to land;
3. Farmers pool their land, livestock and other implements;
4. The entire farm is managed as a single unit and the management is elected by all the members; and
5. Each and every member earns a share of the total produce in accordance with their land contribution and labor performed.

Settlement and Regulation of Tenancy
In the earlier phases of land reforms the emphasis was on food production, extending technology and abolishing regressive institutions; poverty as an issue was not explicitly addressed. Raj Krishna (1961) grouped land-reform measures into four groups: liberative, distributive, organizational and developmental. 
These groups help to clarify the role of land policy as a process of overall development. The liberative measures aimed at the emancipation of the actual tillers of the land from the yoke of the landlord. This was to be achieved by conferring the land title or occupancy rights of the tenant. Fixing of rent was undertaken in a few states, e.g. West Bengal’s “Operation Barga”, where tenancy was recorded. 
The distributive measures were meant to achieve this by delivering material resources to the poor as promised by the Constitution of India, especially those who required land as a productive resource. This was to be achieved by redistributing landownership from large landholders to the landless, specifically from socially weaker sections. 
Organizational reforms aimed at selecting and implementing a particular form of agricultural production practice, with the help of technological change, were introduced in the mid-1960s. These three policies operating together put pressure on land resources, prompting a need for developmental reform. Developmental reforms encompassed other issues interconnected with land policy, which impacted the overall development of the agricultural sector.
 All four components taken together form a part of the overall distributive and development initiatives that were taken immediately after Independence. Even though Raj Krishna wrote this chapter almost at the beginning of the first phase of land reforms, the description aptly gives a clear theoretical view of the reforms that followed in the next two decades.
The major planks of tenancy reform included security of tenure, termination of tenancy, resumption for personal cultivation by the landlord, regulation of rent and confirmation of ownership rights. Various state laws were enacted between 1960 and 1972. These differed across the states and territories. Owing to the diverse and complicated nature of social and agrarian structure in the countryside, no uniform guidelines could be formulated for the whole country. 
However, some broad guidelines were given in addition to the directives in the successive plan documents. The consensus on the policy of tenancy reforms favoured neither complete expropriation of landlordism nor the interests of the tenants. In the national guidelines the following measures were communicated to the state governments for incorporation in the state legislation:
1. Security of the tenancy to be conferred on the actual cultivator;
2. Fair rent to be fixed between 20 and 25 percent of the gross produce;
3. Landowners may be permitted to cultivate land for their personal use;
4. The surrender of the tenancy rights with mutual consent;
5. In respect of some of the area, the landlord – tenant relationship to be ended and the tenant cultivator be brought directly into contact with the state;
6. Disabled persons, defence personnel and other such exemptions to be allowed to lease their land;
7. The term “personal cultivation” should be clearly defined if landlords are allowed to remove tenants in order to resume cultivation;
8. Tenancy records should be corrected and oral tenancies should be abolished.
Because land is subject to state control in India and the relationship between production and land tenure varies from state to state, the national policy recommendations resulted in differing tenancy reform laws in each state.
Tenancy is completely prohibited in some states but completely free in others. Punjab and Haryana have not prohibited tenancy whereas Karnataka has a near complete ban on tenancy. Some states have conferred ownership rights on tenant cultivators except for sharecroppers, whereas West Bengal chose to provide owner-like rights only to the sharecroppers. Some states, such as Maharashtra and Orissa, chose to provide different tenancy reform regimes for different areas within the state. 
Among the various exceptions given under the tenancy acts, provisions allowing the landlords to remove tenants in order to resume personal cultivation assumed greater importance as the dominant landlords took advantage of this clause. The clause was entered with a view to induce the landlord to undertake personal cultivation and also to control absentee landlordism. Tenancy acts in almost all the states allowed the landlord to return land, if required, for personal cultivation, but the terms and definitions differed.

Arguments in favor of repealing Tenancy Laws
Most of India’s poor rural, women and men, make their living by working as agricultural wage labourers or by leasing in other people’s farmlands. Getting access to land by renting, while not as ideal as owning land, provides some relief to the rural landless and marginal and small farmers. Various studies show that close to 35% of India’s agricultural land is cultivated by tenant farmers who are either landless or are small and marginal farmers.
Despite at least 25 million rural households practicing agricultural land rentals, the practice of renting such land in India is legally restricted. The associated challenges of such restriction are: a) tenant farmers not technically defined as farmers are, as a result, unable to avail of benefits provided by government to farmers including credit and other farm inputs and subsidies, b) tenant farmers’ access to agricultural markets is limited as they are not land owners.
One of the most crucial components of India’s post-Independence land reforms initiatives was to impose restrictions on renting agricultural land, as this practice was seen as a remnant of the feudal system, which encouraged exploitation of small farmers and agricultural labourers by big landlords. While the imposition of such restrictions was considered progressive, it didn’t provide a feasible alternative around how the landless or the small and marginal farmers would either own or have access to agricultural land. 
Unfortunately, “land to the tiller” was merely limited to a catchy and ballot spinning slogan. With limited or negligible success of ceiling laws and Bhoodan (gifting of land) in terms of providing land to the poor, under cover land leasing continued, in the absence of any other option for the poor to access land for cultivation.
It has been six decades since these rental restrictions were imposed, but these laws have not been revisited to reflect the realities of a very different India today. The reality is that renting of agricultural land is rampant and is practiced in almost all parts of rural India. Agricultural land rentals are generally helpful for landless families, as well as small and marginal farmers, as it is an affordable means to broaden their access to land, which is their primary source of livelihood.
However, the rental restrictions and prohibitions adopted decades ago to benefit the rural poor and marginalised are now working against them by pushing rentals into informality, which reduces land available for rent, ensures shorter rental periods, and makes it difficult for renters to access loans, crop insurance, drought relief, and other government benefits.
Most agricultural land rental agreements are informal agreements because landowners are often reluctant to let out their land as they fear their tenants will overstay, or even permanently occupy the land. This fear comes from the fact that during the land reform processes in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, approximately five million tenants were given owner-like rights – a “land to the tiller” approach. 
Even though the number of renters benefiting from this approach has reduced to a trickle over the past decades, landowners’ fears persist. Those fears, which are typically justified by the continued existence of highly restrictive agricultural land rental laws, often result in landowners keeping their land fallow or underutilising it rather than making it available for others who could use it for agricultural purposes.
Even when landowners do rent out their land, they are likely to do so for only short periods to ensure that tenants do not stay on. These short-term, informal rentals mean that the tenant has little or no incentive to make long-term, productivity-enhancing improvements to the land. This perverse incentive framework, combined with the fact that renters have difficulty accessing loans or other services, results in lower agricultural productivity and increased land degradation. And when any weather vagary like floods or drought hits rural areas, it is the tenant farmer who is affected the most. 
Since they are not legally recognised as farmers neither in revenue laws nor in the relief code, it is the landowner who becomes eligible for compensation.

Arguments against the repeal of these laws
Land, land tenures, land holdings, consolidation etc. are under the exclusive legislative and administrative jurisdiction of the states as provided in Entry No.18 of List II (State List) in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. However, the Central Government has been playing an advisory and co-ordinating role in the field of land reforms since the First Five-Year Plan. Agrarian reforms have been a core issue for rural reconstruction as a means of ensuring social justice to actual tillers and the landless rural poor, thereby creating a sustainable base for the overall growth of the industrial and tertiary sectors of our economy. 
Generating greater access of landless rural poor to land is considered an important component of poverty alleviation. The major objective of land reforms have been the re-ordering of agrarian relations to achieve an egalitarian social condition, elimination of exploitation in land relations, realizing the age-old goal of land to the tiller, enlarging the land base of the rural poor, increasing agricultural productivity and infusing an element of equality in local institutions. 
The Department of Land Resources in the Union Ministry of Rural Development has been playing a crucial role in evolving a national consensus for initiating effective land reforms which include abolition of Zamindari system and all intermediaries since the beginning of the fifties, introduction of family ceiling in the mid fifties, reduction of the ceiling limit, consolidation of land holdings and monitoring the progress of the distribution of ceiling surplus land as part of the 20-point programme of the Central Government. The Department also initiated amendments of the Constitution 13 times for incorporation of 277 land laws in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution
The Land Reforms Division in the Department of Land Resources also acts as the nodal division of the Ministry of Rural Development for administration of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, including issues covered under Entry No. 42 of the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The activities of the Division can, therefore, be broadly divided into 3 major groups, i.e. discharging constitutional obligations, monitoring of programmes relating to land reforms and implementing centrally sponsored schemes.

Legislation on resettlement and rehabilitation 
The Land Reforms Division has also been acting as the Nodal Agency for formulating a Policy/Legislation on the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Project Affected Persons/ Families. We now have the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 and the revised National Policy of 2007. The Bill ensured rehabilitation before acquisition of land of farmers and tribals and allowed states to acquire 30% of land for private developers only after the developers had acquired 70% directly from farmers

Conferment of ownership rights to tenants
Legislative measures have been taken in many states for conferment of ownership rights to tenants, protecting their rights from willful eviction and allowing cultivating tenants to acquire ownership rights on payment of compensation. Some of the states have acquired ownership of land from certain categories of landowners and transferred the same to tenants. Sub-tenancies have generally been prohibited all over the country except in certain cases, viz. widows, members of armed forces, minors, unmarried women, persons suffering from disabilities, etc. 
Till date, 125.86 lakh tenants have got their rights protected over an area of 167.14 lakh acres.

Distribution of surplus land
Since inception till March 2006, the total quantum of land declared surplus in entire country is 6.838 million acres, out of which about 5.980 million acres have been taken possession of and 4.940 millon acres have been distributed to 5.350 millon beneficiaries of whom 39% belong to Scheduled Castes and 16% belong to Scheduled Tribes.

Distribution of government wastelands: 
Distribution of government wastelands has been one of the key strategies of land reforms in the country. It has been the accepted policy of the Central Government that wastelands at the disposal of the State Governments should be distributed amongst eligible rural poor. The criteria governing the distribution of ceiling surplus land also applies to the distribution of wasteland. So far, 14.747 million acres of government wastelands have been distributed amongst landless rural poor.

Draft National Land Reforms Policy
The central government of India has released a draft of an ambitious new national land reform policy for public discussion that, if approved and adopted, could help the country end landlessness and extreme rural poverty.
India currently has an estimated 50 million rural landless poor families and tens of millions more who have insecure rights to their land. Both groups are trapped in generational poverty and account for the majority of India’s malnourished and hungry.
The draft national land reform policy has five goals:
Distribute land to all rural landless poor
Restore land unjustly taken from vulnerable communities such as  the Dalits (untouchables) and Tribals
Protect the land of the Dalits and Tribals including the Commons that they depend on going forward
Liberalize leasing laws
Improve land rights of women
Several points of the agreement have already been completed, such as: sending recommendations on improving land issues to 13 states, the revision of a rural housing scheme and the presentation of a National Rural Homestead Act which entitles every rural landless family to 10 decimals of land (about a 1/10 of an acre).  
While the policy no doubt is historic, many of its elements have been recommended by various committees for decades and some of the recommended programs have already been tested successfully at the state level.
The policy’s call for an end to rural landlessness, for example, builds off existing democratic and market-friendly land reform programs already operating in West Bengal, Karnataka, and Odisha. Already, more than 250,000 families have benefited through these state programs.   The programs provide families with tennis court-sized plots—enough land to build a small home and a kitchen garden. Such a program would require less than one-half of one percent of the roughly 400 million acres of India’s present arable land to end landlessness.
Likewise, there has been renewed focus in many states on bolstering women’s land rights. Increasing evidence points to a strong association between women’s land ownership and myriad desired gains, including increased nutrition and schooling for children, and reduced domestic violence.  West Bengal now ensures women’s names are included and come first on “pattas” (land titles). 

Summary of Discussion on Draft National Land Reforms Policy
Overall Observations
Pro-poor and Pro-women policy: Overall, the draft National Land Reforms Policy is pro-poor and pro-women. But three aspects in particular need further consideration: Women’s land rights; Tenancy; and Public Land Bank.
More focused towards rural land reforms: The ‘Draft National Land Reforms Policy’ seems to be skewed more on rural land reforms. Urban land issues are equally complex though the size might be smaller. Hence the draft would do well to have urban related issues addressed as well. Besides, land use plan for urban areas it will be useful to include the crucial aspect of earmarking ‘dumping space’ for urban wastes. There is hardly any mention of the pro-poor land issues in urban India. The issues of pavement dwellers, street vendors, slum dwellers, un-regularized colonies, and the like are not mentioned in the policy.
Exemption of North Eastern region: The Policy has exempted the states of North-Eastern India and does not seem to be adequately clarifying the reasons for the same.
Introduction needs to be more focused: Introduction part of the policy is perhaps going to serve as preamble of the policy therefore the policy needs to be sharper in terms of its intentions towards the land issue. Land is not a commodity which can be left to market. This is linked to livelihood, culture and dignity of the people and communities. Reading through the entire document, it is somewhat clear that the policy goals are fivefold; a) Land Distribution b) Land Restoration c) Land Protection d) Women’s Land Rights, and e) Institutional Reform for efficiency, transparency and accountability. These five policy goals should be clearly stated in the introduction.
Coverage of Backward Classes in the policy: There has been little mention of the other backward classes (OBCs), Salt farmers (in Gujarat’s context).
Interconnections between demand for agriculture and non-agriculture purposes: The proposed policy needs to address the interconnections of surging demand of land for agricultural purpose and demand of more land for non-agricultural purpose and to strike a balance through land reforms policy.
Mention of the failures in past with respect to land redistribution : The failures of the past with respect to land redistribution, its equitable distribution and management must be laid out and analyzed along with the considerable data and land use plans already available with the State Governments. This will help in making the policy sharper.
Administrative reforms and improvements in institutional processes: The Policy encompasses a very large set of pro-active administrative, legal and quasi-legal actions to ensure the rights to land of all socially and economically marginalized communities including SCs, STs, Women, Nomads and the like. Additionally, the policy proposes a number of administrative reforms, and improvements in institutional processes to make it more efficient, transparent, and accountable. In the present form, these proposals are scattered in the text. It is useful to have those under a Part-B of the policy.
Budgetary provisions to be given in the report: There are several measures prescribed in the policy that would require substantial budgetary support from the state and central government. Considering the precarious status of the finances of many states, it is almost obvious that the central government will have to provide requisite budgetary support to make it happen. It is not clear whether the central government has computed the budgetary requirement to support implementation of this policy. A brief about the budget support should form part of the policy.

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