How do you set a Question Paper? – Musing on the Teachers Day

September 5 is known as the Teachers Day in India. Teacher’s Day is marked in honor of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was born on September 5, 1888.

Dr Radhakrishnan was India’s first vice president and second president. He was a great scholar, philosopher and recipient of the prestigious Bharat Ratna . Since 1962 – the year he became president – India has commemorated Dr Radhakrishnan’s birth anniversary by paying tribute to its teachers and gurus on this day.  On this day, all “students” pay respects to their teachers who have  guided and shaped their lives.

I went to see my Professor friend on the morning of September 5.

When he opened the door and let me in, I touched his feet seeking his blessings. “Oh, Dr Modak, why this?” He exclaimed. He was clearly embarrassed.

When I told him about the Teachers day, he said “Well, I never formally taught you in the class – but maybe I gave you some “insights” while having coffee – but essentially another point of view”. He smiled while lighting his cigar

“Well Professor, these conversations have indeed been quite some teaching to me” I said with all the gratitude.

We then spoke about our teaching experiences and shared anecdotes of some of the inspiring teachers and outstanding students.

“A Teacher should know not just what to teach, or how to teach but how to assess the students. Assessment is often the key”. Said the Professor

“You are absolutely right Professor” I responded. “Often assessments are not well designed and are conducted rather poorly.”

“Tell me Dr Modak, why do we conduct an assessment at all?” Professor asked me taking a deep puff.

I thought this was a rather too basic question to ask.

But I put forth several reasons as below.

  1. To know the understanding of the student
  2. To judge his/her ability to apply what is understood
  3. To allow comparison, instill competition and reward those who excel
  4. To help focus on students that are laggards and may need more help
  5. To get a feedback on how effective your teaching has been

Professor listened to me carefully and agreed to all the above. He then got up and patted on my back and said softly “You missed one more reason Dr Modak”

6. To give students a confidence

I was surprised. I had never thought of this 6th reason for the assessment. I remembered Professors in IIT Bombay where I studied.

We had some Professors who used to set real tough question papers to gain a kind of “reputation”. They were called – as “homos” – as most students used to get “screwed” during the assessment.

Some Professors used to set very lengthy questions where the speed of thinking as well as writing mattered. These professors used to smile when most of us used to beg for extra time. The answer books used to have 4 to 5 supplements!

Some Professors used to give us an Open Book examination where we could bring our books and “cog” sheets. The “solutions” to the questions in the paper were however never found in the books.

Some Professors used to go even one step ahead. They used to allow us to take the question paper to the hostel and take help from our seniors if we wished. A weekend used to be given to come back with the answer books. But, the questions asked were so difficult and different – perhaps coming from the “outer space” and so we used to urge the Professor to set a standard, conventional and time bound question paper.

Professor was amused when I narrated such stories. He said “Well Dr Modak, setting a good question paper is not a matter of acrobatics, it’s also not for displaying your superiority or satisfy your ego and establish an identity. The question paper must be balance of the six objectives we talked about”

So, Professor, what is the “science” of question paper setting? I could not hesitate but ask.

Professor lit the second cigar. “Here are the first principles of setting a question paper Dr Modak – all examples applicable to students studying environment”

  • If you group the students in three categories i.e. top notch, medium and below average, then reserve 100 marks as follows. Top notch 30, medium 30 and below average 40. The questions for each category must be designed differently
  • For the below average case, put 20 marks on the “objective” questions (like TRUE/FALSE but with WHY? ask for match making, correcting a flow chart or filling gaps in the flow chart can be another example– e.g. in industrial manufacturing flow sheet, wastewater treatment process etc.). Keep remaining 20 marks for questions that ask for half page to one page write up or explanation but asking for EXAMPLES. Give multiple options to choose the topic here.
  • For the medium lot, reserve 15 marks for some computational work oriented to problem solving. The problem should however require a need to make ASSUMPTIONS. So, don’t provide complete set of data. Keep the remaining 15 marks for a comprehension type of question where you give a page of text to read and ask questions where there are no easy answers e.g. what should be preferred choice of disinfecting wastewaters prior to discharge or is GMO the solution to address the problem of word’s food security?
  • And for the top-notch students, you need to be rather creative and little out of the box. These questions should ideally check deeper understanding of the student e.g. asking for a causal loop diagram of Food-Water-Land nexus with impact of climate change. Another example could be to state an issue and ask the student to develop a strategic approach with institutional and financial considerations. (Professor did not elaborate here. I could sense he did not want to reveal his “tool box” for assessing the top-notch students)

When Professor saw me taking notes, he paused. “Well Dr Modak, you don’t have to follow my “rules”. After all, remember setting a question paper is both science and art”.

I was thinking how many Professors think of this science and art of question paper setting? How much time and importance do Professor give to this important aspect of “teaching”?

I thought this was a new learning and realization for me on Teachers day.

While reaching me at the door, Professor whispered “Well, we just talked about structuring the question paper – Dr Modak but there is also a science in sequencing/ordering or mixing the questions – we never pose the questions in the hierarchy of below average, medium and top-notch students. The “finale” is a carefully designed “ladder” with well laid “traps” – giving a student an experience of an uneven ride! Only the bright ones do page reading of the question paper and decide the sequence in answering!

I felt rather lucky that I did not formally take a course with Professor and appear for his exam.

“Professor, could we take a project of compiling some of the best crafted question papers/assignments in the subject environmental management?  Teachers of today need to know” I said while walking down the staircase.


In 1984, I went through a 5-day rigorous training at IIT Kanpur in India on how to set question paper for the famous IIT’s Joint Entrance Examination. It was a memorable experience. To my knowledge, this kind of training did not happen later. Pity.


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My Professor Friend opens his office in a Medical Poly-Clinique

My General Practioner (GP) Doctor K K Jain just retired. He used to see me right from my childhood days. When I would tell him about my health problem, he would smile and pat on my back and say, “Don’t you worry – I will take good care of you”.

His compounder (a species that does not exist anymore) would prepare few sachets for me with 3 to 4 colorful tablets in each. I would take them from the counter by paying a princely sum of Rs 100. The 100 Rs included Doctors fees as well as the medicines that would last for 3 to 4 days and perfectly cure me from the ailment.

Today when I fall sick, I go to a specialist. If my throat goes soar then I see some ENT specialist and if a back pain hits me then I queue up to an Orthopedic. I must wait in the clinic for a long time (as taking appointment is meaningless). In the early days, old issues of Film fair used to be kept in the waiting room for a read. That used to be entertaining. Now I see magazines on Mutual Fund investments instead! Time have changed.

When a specialist sees you, you don’t know what fees are going to be charged. The bill is always a surprise. It’s a shocker but you don’t higgle haggle and simply pay what is told. You never take 3 quotations – a practice you are used to as an engineering consultant. You don’t go for L1 as well.  Sometimes you pay the doctor the amount demanded and in some cases, a drab receptionist siting outside collects the fees from you. Everything is in cash contrary to the directive of the PM. I like this consulting business of specialist’s doctors.

Other day my Professor Friend dropped by to my office at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). Anirban Ghosh, Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of Mahindra was to see me for a chat. Professor offered to wait outside. “Oh, there is nothing confidential Professor, Do stay inside” I said.

Anirban and his colleague Naresh Patil came in. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked Anirban purpose of his visit. “Oh, nothing actually. Haven’t seen you for a while. Just wanted to touch base. But now that I am here, I would just like to pick on your brains”

We got into an hour-long discussion. Naresh briefed me about the recent sustainability initiatives that Mahindra has taken. Anirban explained the challenges. I gave a number of suggestions and innovative ideas that Mahindra could consider. Naresh took meticulous notes. Professor did not say a word. He was listening to our conversations – watching Anirban’s hawk face disguised in a friendly smile and my sheer (uncalled for)  enthusiasm.

When Anirban and Naresh left, I asked for another round of coffee for Professor.

“Is this how you spend most of your day Dr Modak”. Professor asked this question while lighting his cigar.

Well, good question Professor. I never analyzed how I spend my day. But like Anirban, people drop by to “pick my brains”. Yesterday, Suman Mazumdar, CSO of JSW was here and last week was Bastian Mohrmann from 2030WRG of International Finance Corporation (IFC).

I am sure you must be enjoying these conversations Dr Modak. Professor asked me while getting up and lifting his umbrella. He sounded a bit sarcastic.

“Yes Professor” I said.

“Well, I see that you are no businessman Dr Modak. No wonder staff at your consulting office complain about low salaries. All these “friends” are essentially taking good advantage of your enthusiasm to help. They are stealing ideas from you (because they are terribly short of these), develop projects accordingly for their consultants and finally grab the credit for innovation. They are never going to sole source you, because you could be expensive and sometimes (unnecessarily) forthright. Have you got any consulting work from these well-known business houses – ever at all? You are behaving like your good old GP Dr KK Jain” Professor said this when we reached my office front door.

He then turned to the elevators and whispered while passing me his new visiting card “Why don’t you come to my new consulting office in Lower Parel and learn what I do. Reach at sharp 11 am”.

The address on the visiting card was “Shubhankar Medical Poly-Clinic”. I felt both curious and surprised. How come Professor practices in the medical poly-clinique? I said to myself.

I discovered that Professor was the only engineering or management consultant in the “Shubhankar Medical Poly-Clinique”. The board outside his cabin carried his name with a long string of qualifications and memberships with some UN decorations. He was named as “Sustainability and Lifestyles Specialist”. All other cabins were occupied by well-known medical practioners, such as Dr Rajesh Rajani on Cardiology, Dr A Almeida on Nephrology, Dr N F Shah on Endocrinology etc. There was an attendant and a receptionist in the foyer where patients were waiting. Those waiting for Professor’s appointment were reading the BCCI’s newsletter “Sustainability Quotient (SQ) (I was glad to see that at least few are reading the SQ. I have been editing SQ for past 5 years with no feedback at all!)

Professor made me sit inside his Cabin like his assistant. “Record the conversations Dr Modak and make notes of the key points” Professor said.

Savyasachi from Asian Paints walked in. What’s your problem Savyasachi? Professor asked while sending someone a SMS from his mobile (Rule # 1 Professor said – show that you are NOT interested and busy with mundane things. Don’t give importance to the patient”. He gave me a list of rules to follow like you get from a dietatian)

“Sir, thank you so much for your time. Asian Paints is thinking of expanding one of our plants to meet the growing demand from the Export market. Wanted to get your advice on a speedy environmental clearance of course at least cost and least processing time. I have brought with me the compliance records and most recent sustainability report”

Well, we need to start from scratch Savyasachi – I don’t trust these kinds of reports you Corporates produce. I can get them just like that and by the dozens” Professor growled. After a brief questioning, he put on his spectacles, opened his writing pad and wrote a “prescription” like how Dr Rajesh Rajani, the Cardiologist would write

  • Fresh Base Line Survey 1 -0 –0 (1-0-0 implied only one season study and not Morning, Afternoon, Night as medical doctors and the patients normally understood)
  • Air quality modelling study (using AERMOD) This study sounded more like a MRI
  • Socio-cultural profiling (sounded like a Lipid profile)

He then wrote down several more “tests” that Asian Paints had to do before meeting him next time. He also handed over to Savyasachi a standard list of EIA ToRs. This was just like a visual on standard set of exercises an Orthopedic recommends – irrespective of the “type of patient” – I thought.

While Savyasachi got up from his Chair thanking him, professor told him where such tests should be done. “Get the baseline from Aditya Environmental Services as they know MPCB pretty well. Air quality modelling should be done at IIT Delhi and social-cultural profiling from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. (This sounded like asking to go to Dr Avinash Phadke’s SRL Diagnostic Lab for the Path tests). My secretary outside will provide you the contact details. Pay fees to her and in cash”

The session with Savyasachi lasted for only 5 min. While exiting Savyasachi paid Rs 10,000 to the receptionist as Professors fees. My mouth gaped (I did quick calculation – I was losing at least 1 million Rs a month due to my generosity. I did not even add the commission I could get from Ulhas Joglekar of Aditya Environmental Services!)

“Nothing should be free – after all this is business – you don’t let them to pick your brains just like that “Professor said while punching papers of my notes in Asian Paints “case file”.

He then rang the bell to get the next patient in.

Mr. Anirban Ghosh from Mahindra walked in with wads of papers

What a surprise! – both of us exclaimed!I

 


It is a rumor that Mr. Hardik Shah, Private Secretary to the Hon Union Environmental Minister, is taking out a Government Order (GO) that all high specialist environmental consultants will  open their offices (or cliniques) in Medical Poly-clinique for their business sustainability. Apparently, Polluter pays is the governing principle.

This will stop the L1 practice of choosing environmental consultants and environmental specialists will be treated at par with speciality medical doctors. The industry will pay for advice.

I will soon be locating  my consulting office in a nearby Medical Poly-Clinique. I expect to raise salaries of my staff soon.

Let us get some respect to our “life saving” profession.


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Communicating Sustainability

 

Spreading the message of sustainability has always been a challenging task. It is important that we all understand the importance of sustainable lifestyles and “walk the talk” by transforming our way of living. But is that so easy? Its easier said than done.

While the businesses have started to understand the advantage of sustainability; the situation is quite different when it comes to other key stakeholders such as Government, Investors and the Communities. In most cases, there is a lack of understanding and sometimes just apathy.

Government employees say that Sustainability is not in their Job Description or they are not paid for. Investors keep asking for evidence that shows Sustainability is Material and the people, especially in Mumbai, feel that they don’t have enough time to even think about Sustainability. Most of the time people spend in Mumbai is in the traffic jams or on the mobile phones.

How can we make people understand Sustainability and make them Sustainability Literate?

The Chief Minister (CM) of the Government of Maharashtra decided to call for a meeting of key political leaders, top media persons, business tycoons, academia and the environmental NGOs at his residence on a Friday evening.

Prime Minister (PM) dispatched Mr. Amit Shah, BJP Party President, to be present as he thought that raising Sustainability Literacy could be a new election strategy. He was wrongly briefed by his office that the meeting focused on political sustainability as the concept of environmental sustainability was not known to the PMO. Knowing that Mr. Amit Shah is attending this meeting, Mr. Nitish Kumar, CM of Bihar and Mr. Suresh Prabhu, the Union Railway Minister also decided to attend.

The CM gave opening remarks. He was to the point and crisp as usual. He summed up saying that the State Government is in debt and there are no financial resources available. But, this was known to everybody. Sustainability was however important for his Party. He asked Piyush Pande of Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) to present the approach and a budget.

Piyush Pande circulated a 2-page note that showed an indicative budget of 1000 million Rs over the next 6 months. Items included inserts and debates on main TV channels that have high TRF rating, Hoardings/Neon signs at locations where we see major traffic jams, Videos that may be shown after the National Anthem in the movie theaters etc.  There was also a budget provided for use of modern platforms such as Facebook. A sizable budget was provided for Mobile Apps that would track sustainable lifestyle etc. Based on the performance of the sustainable lifestyle, discounts were to be provided on shopping on amazon!

Marathi, Hindi and English were considered as the principal languages for communication (One of the attendees however suggested that the languages should be Gujarati, Sindhi and Punjabi as those who speak these languages are perhaps the most consumptive and wasteful – badly requiring Sustainability Literacy).

Piyush showed some rough artworks, visuals, mocks etc. that entertained the audience. O&M was to take the lead for the entire campaign for a modest fee of 200 million Rs.

After Piyush Pande’s presentation, there was silence as the challenge was how to raise the sum of 1000 million Rs. in a short time. The CM took the lead. He appealed to all the Corporate Honchos that they should contribute 5% of their CSR budgets for communicating sustainability. Mr. Ratan Tata, Kumarmangalam Birla and Anand Mahindra readily agreed to this proposition as they were expecting that 5% may be levied on the turnovers as is generally done while mopping the election funds. They felt a bit relieved. But given the herculean task of reaching 120+ million stubborn population of the State of Maharashtra, the CSR budgets alone were not going to be sufficient.

Mr. Deepak Parikh (often misunderstood for his wise suggestions) proposed that additional funds could be raised by adding 1% to the recently introduced GST. The items to target could include luxury cars (SUVs), food in four stars and “plus” restaurants, air conditioners, cosmetics, cigarettes and liquor. “This will not only lead to generation of funds but influence frugal living” He said. Prominent environmentalists like Bittu Sahgal, Debi Goenka and Kunti Oza supported this suggestion. (“I already have ACs fitted in all my rooms” Kunti whispered)

“We should cut down the costs somehow” said Dr. Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist of the Aditya Birla Group. “Let us start with a pilot in Mumbai first before attempting the entire State of Maharashtra“ He opined. (Piloting is a “strategic approach” to cut down the costs. It also helps to kill the project later as per most eminent economists).

“But then the pilot will have to be in Nagpur and not Mumbai” said the CM. “I am only interested in Vidarbha”. He looked very firm.

“Why don’t you do both Mumbai and Nagpur as pilots. Keep both the options” said Mr. Nitish Kumar, CM of Bihar. “Typical of Nitish” thought the CM “He always wants to keep 2 options”

Piyush Pande suggested that the costs could be further reduced by using channel like Republic instead of Times Now. He clarified that no offences were made to Arnab Goswami in making such a suggestion. Fortunately, Arnab was not present in the meeting. Else he would surely asked the question “Nation wants to know – why?”

“Why don’t you print messages on Sustainability on the reverse side of the Railway tickets. This will hit millions of people commuting in Mumbai”. Said Mr. Suresh Prabhu, originally a Mumbaikar and now the Union Railway Minister. He misses Mumbai.

“Great – this will also help educate the Railway ticket checkers on Sustainability. They are behind the scene but are equally important” added Actor Alia Bhatt. All present realized that Alia could certainly see “beyond”.

Piyush Pande then presented some sample designs of the hoardings. CM did not approve any of them as the hoardings did not carry PM’s picture. The CM was absolutely right – how can you communicate Sustainability without portraying leadership of the PM. Mr. Pande accepted his mistake.

There were numerous other suggestions like mandating Sustainability in all religious festivals and in the conduct of public meetings. Suggestions were also made to provide catchy slogans to the Truck drivers. They could be asked to replace the irrelevant and popular slogans like “Horn OK Please” or “Buri Nazarwale Tera Muh Kala” that you often see them on the rear. Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh, VC of Mumbai University suggested a compulsory on-line Sustainability Literacy test. His suggestion was summarily rejected. “I don’t want any delays and further mess up” said the CM

Mr. Amit Shah was keeping quiet all this time. “Any suggestions Sir?” The CM asked as he was getting ready to sum up the meeting

“Well, I have only one suggestion for Mr. Pande. Use saffron color to the maximum extent possible in communicating sustainability” He said this while switching off his secret miniature camcorder that was gifted to him by none other than Mr. Vladimir Putin.


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The Black Hole of Capacity Building at Pollution Control Boards in India

For several, especially the polluters, Pollution Control Board (PCB) is an important institution. PCBs grant or renew consents to pollute, demand and accept payments for the Cess and carry out monitoring to check the compliance. No wonder, the atmosphere at a PCB is sometimes like a Police Station. You are not sure about the justice!

The Member Secretary (MS) is the Chief Administrator of PCB while the Chairman gives strategic direction. Both MS and Chairman are difficult to meet, not just because they are extremely busy but because they often belong to the IFS/IAS category. Once you belong to this category, then you have to keep people waiting outside the room and say “no” after a long wait.

I have been however quite fortunate in working with the PCBs. My first interaction was with Mr. B V Rotkar, MS at the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) in 1978. I met him in his office at the Grant Road that was dimly lit. Later, in 1979, I met Dr Niloy Chaudhari, Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at CPCB’s very first office at the Shahajahan road in New Delhi. That office was like a barrack. I made propositions to both Mr. Rotkar and Dr Chaudhari on modelling water quality for preparing rational river water quality management plans. They gave me patient hearing, showed interest and promised support (which they actually did). These were technical discussions that are rare today at the PCBs.

I became a retainer consultant to CPCB for 4 years from 1984 and started visiting Delhi every month for 3 to 4 days. The office was at Nehru Place with Roopa and Sona (shops selling samosa, paneer dishes and sweets) at the ground floor. I used to frequent there with my CPCB colleagues and bump into some of the activists from Centre for Science and Environment.

I did not have precise terms of reference for work so I used to be working with Dr Niloy Choudhari on a variety of areas. His vision, depth of the subject and way of conducting and summing up the meetings was phenomenal. I got groomed in this process. Oh, the Chairman of the PCB matters.

I was connected to almost all the key officers of CPCB. I used to stay at the Guest house of CPCB at Alaknanda housing complex across Chittaranjan Park. Those were really memorable days as after the day’s work, dinners used to be with colleagues at CPCB. Dr Sudhir and Usha Ghosh were the regular hosts (Usha was Statistical Offer then and was my key contact). I used to be with the Baruahs (who later moved to Vadodara regional office) and S P Chakraborty (who later became MS of CPCB) for dinners as well. We used to talk about the politics and the problems but building capacities of PCBs was always a central topic of discussions.

While at the Guesthouse, I used to be with other CPCB consultants like Prof Mukherjee of Center for Man and Environment from Kolkata and bump into some of the senior Regional Officers of CPCB such as Dr R N Bhattacharya (RNB). I remember I used to scare RNB by telling weird ghost stories at night and Prof Mukherji used to have a good laugh at my “stories”. Prof Mukherjee introduced me the importance of creating maps and the “infographics”. He created several maps for CPCB, especially for Ganga. Today, PCBs seldom make such maps. I strongly believe that map making builds capacities, improves understanding and builds teams.

Helmut Krist was one of the first GTZ consultants to CPCB. We gelled very well – along with Dr Sudhir and Usha Ghosh. I was keen that CPCB embarks the era of computerization. There was however some resistance at CPCB on use of computers. On my insistence, Krist found money to purchase the first Personal Computer (PC).

I wrote the database management software for the CPCB using this machine. The coding was done in dBASE III+/Clipper (following Simpson’s book) and Mita Bhattacharya (who is still with CPCB) helped me along with Usha Ghosh. I wrote codes for managing water quality, air quality and industrial pollution data. I also wrote codes for computation of Cess (that unfortunately got the most priority!). These codes on testing were provided to all key State PCBs and a week-long training was conducted in New Delhi. The computer era at PCBs thus begun. My major contention was to bring in discipline in data collection and organization of data rather than just the computer application. Unfortunately, few understood (even today) this hidden objective and the benefit.

Later, the National Informatics Center (NIC) took over to develop several “modules” in the style of Management Information System (MIS). The modules were installed in several State PCBs for the interest of harmonization. Today, after nearly 30 years, only some PCBs are actually using these systems to their advantage.  Gujarat and Maharashtra PCBs are the lead examples where the systems are in active use. Unfortunately, the focus still continues to be computation and recovery of Cess.

I found training programmes as a great platform to connect with the PCBs. In 1987, the Ganga Project Directorate sponsored a project with me on water quality modelling – keeping a focus on application of these models for river Ganga. After the field establishment of these models (called as STREAM-I and STREAM-II), I conducted 10 training programs for the staff of PCBs and trained nearly 200 scientists and engineers over 2 years. Many of these “students” later rose to the level of Chief Engineers/Scientists and even MS in various State PCBs. These connections helped me to continue my interactions with PCBs – one way or other. Of course, what was “taught” was quickly forgotten!  The friendship however continued!!

In 1991, the Industrial Pollution Control (IPC) project was launched by the Ministry of Environment & Forests with the support of the World Bank. Strengthening of the capacities of the State PCBs and CPCB was one of the project components. The IPC project was followed by the Industrial Pollution Prevention (IPP) and later by the project on Environmental Management Capacity Building (EMCB). Strengthening involved upgrdation of the laboratories, installation of computer systems and applications based on GIS and training of staff in India as well as overseas. These projects lasted over 10 years till 2001. I worked with the World Bank as a Consultant for IPC, IPP and EMCB in this entire duration. I was closely involved in the capacity building component. Indeed, these efforts transformed the PCBs “for a while” but as the MS’s changed, seniors retired and the World Bank support ended, the situation returned to the same dismal state.

In 2004, another project called Capacity Building for Industrial Pollution Management Project (CBIPM) was taken up by MoEF and the World Bank for capacity building focusing on rehabilitation of the contaminated lands. I was involved in the project formulation of CBIPM. The capacity building under CBIPM improved the laboratories further but could hardly create a dent due to poor project management. These four World Bank assisted projects “spent” nearly 150 million USD on capacity building of the State PCBs and CPCB over nearly 30 years.

There were efforts made through bi-lateral assistance too. Examples are the Environmental Training Institute (ETI) at Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and ETI at the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (that was later transformed into Environmental Management and Pollution Research Institute – EMPRI) that received Danish (DANIDA) Support. Then there was Environmental Protection & Training Research Institute – EPTRI) an off shoot of Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board that received support from SIDA. GIZ (earlier GTZ) provided assistance to modernize the laboratories at various State PCBs. NORAD provided such assistance to the Orissa Pollution Control Board. In fact, I was called to design a Centre for EIA in Bhubaneshwar that never materialized. NORAD and SIDA provided some assistance to the Rajasthan PCB and Madhya Pradesh PCB as well. AusAID assisted the Andhra Pradesh PCB by taking nearly 100 staff members to Australia for training. I would estimate that another 150 million USD were spent by the bi-lateral development agencies for capacity building of the PCBs.

Despite these efforts, do you think the capacity of PCBs has improved? It seems that capacity building at PCBs was like a black hole – you send beams of light that get simply swallowed and nothing comes back!

There have been efforts made for different institutional design and arrangements to circumvent the challenges on capacity building. The West Bengal PCB partnered with IMC to establish Environmental Management Centre to serve as a facilitator. The Maharashtra PCB signed MoU with YashDa as a twinning partner for capacity building.  The Tamil Nadu PCB has initiated Technology Demonstration Centre with IIT Madras for demonstrating best available technologies. A financial support of Rs 50 million has been provided. The Rajasthan PCB has embarked a program on promoting entrepreneurship in the waste sector under State’s Start up Policy. Most of  these efforts have however not been successful.

Few years ago, Andhra Pradesh PCB (APPCB) prepared a blue print for Environmental Compliance Assistance Centre (ECAC) – structured in the form of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). This SPV was intended to provide services to improve compliance and competitiveness of the SMEs – keeping an arms distance from the regulator. My company Environmental Management Centre,  prepared this blue print for APPCB after a painstaking process but as soon as the blue print got finalized the State of Andhra split!

Today, PCBs perhaps do not have a single case to show that because of the actions, the pollution load has been contained or reduced. The environment continues to deteriorate. The staff at the PCBs has remained incompetent and is inadequate while the responsibilities have increased. The heads of the institution are mostly the administrators who are not familiar with the domain. They change seats frequently. The courts are intervening and interfere. More importantly there seems to be no interest in the staff for learning and catching up with the new paradigms on environmental management. Mr. T N Seshan, Ex-Secretary, MoEF had once said that PCBs should be closed. The TSR Subramanium report has made recommendations on demolishing PCBs and restructuring the environmental governance. The Supreme Court of India has already given directions.

The situation is no different in other countries. I can say this having worked closely with regulators in Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Vietnam for the past 20 years. The black hole of capacity building of environmental regulators continues.

I was not surprised when Mr. Trump announced that he would close or shut down the US Environmental Protection Agency. Well, he may have other reasons but he could just be right.

But let us look at solutions and take an optimistic outlook. What can be done?

Some say (like commented by Sajid Hussain below) that we must bring in the component of training in the career progression of the PCB staff. Some believe that twinning with an academic institution should be the way. Some argue that dont limit capacity building only to PCBs but address the core eco-system i.e. consultants, environmental monitoring agencies etc. from the private sector. Having a resident expert to provide hands on training is also considered another idea (this was attempted by GTZ). Instituting induction program at the “base of the pyramid” (as suggested by Dr Singhal in his comment) and leadership program at senior and top levels (suggested by Prof Pratim Biswas) could be an effective strategy of bottom-up and top-down approach.

May be a combination of all could work. Financial resource is no more a constraint.

I would be very interested to listen to your point of view. Let us hope that the magic of capacity building works and PCBs become the lighthouses and not black holes.


(cover image sourced from http://rmc.org/what-we-do/capacity-building/)


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Common Environmental Infrastructure  – Its Evolution and Future

 

“Environmental infrastructure” is a general term that refers to infrastructure facilities as well as public services that are essential for protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment. Environmental infrastructure reduces risks to the humans and ecosystems and improves quality of life.

Environmental infrastructure that is developed for the common interests of a targeted group of users is referred to as “Common Environment Infrastructure” (CEI).

Urban infrastructure such as water supply; sewage collection and treatment; collection, treatment and disposal of solid wastes and provision of public toilets are examples of Urban CEI. This infrastructure is built using resources from the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), State or Central Government in the form of grants or schemes or more recently partnering with the private sector. The public that is benefited through CEI is charged through tariffs and taxes. The charges are often subsidized and are differential (e.g. different for domestic, commercial and industrial uses)

There are CEIs for the industries as well. Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs)  are examples of CEI for industrial clusters/estates.

The concept of CETPs emerged from a workshop led by Professor Niloy Choudhari, then Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board in 1977 held in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India. CETPs were conceived to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to connect their effluents to a central effluent treatment plant and contribute financially to its construction and operation.

The proceedings of this workshop provide the concept and rationale for CETPs. I still hold a copy of the proceedings. Only few will have this copy. The CETP and its operationalization is India’s contribution to the World. Countries like Vietnam, Thailand, China, Brazil etc. adopted CETPs, much based on India’s experience.

In 1987, i.e. 10 years later after Prof Choudhari’s  workshop, a group of seven entrepreneurs owning and operating small and medium chemical and pharma industries came forward to promote Jeedimetla Effluent Treatment Limited (JETL). A CETPs was set up on the outskirts of Hyderabad following “Polluter to Pay Principle”. The treatment facility was commissioned in April, 1989 at cost of Rs. 4.6 million to treat 350 m3/day of effluent using Activated Sludge Process.

Today there are nearly 200 CETPs operating in India. In their promotion, following aspects were considered

  1. Institutional – To establish CETP, a company had to be formed under the Companies Act by the interested polluters for parties. SMEs had to be the major stakeholders or the beneficiaries, especially if subsidies were to be enjoyed.
  2. Financial – The CETPs were subsidized by the State (initially by the State Government and later in some cases by the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and also by the Center (using initially the Central Loan Scheme and later through a grant from Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) using the IDA funds from the World Bank (under the projects Industrial Pollution Control (IPC) and Industrial Pollution Prevention (IPP). The early financial structuring for capital contribution was as follows.

25% State subsidy, 25% Central subsidy (both provided as reimbursement), 20% Equity from the participating industries and 30% Loan (provided by Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) through IBRD money made available by the World Bank.

Now the financial structuring is different. The contributions are 25% Central subsidy, 25% by the State and 50% by the member industries. For CETPs involving primary / secondary / tertiary treatment, central financial assistance would be to the tune of 50% of maximum Rs.15 million / MLD capacity, subject to a ceiling of Rs. 150 million  per CETP. For CETPs involving primary / secondary / tertiary treatment and Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) treatment, financial assistance would be provided by GOI to the tune of 50% of maximum Rs. 45 million / MLD capacity, subject to a ceiling of Central assistance of Rs. 200 million  per CETP.

  1. Technical – The design of the CETPs had to be vetted to enjoy the subsidy. This was done by the National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI). MoEF specified the effluent standards.

Figure 1: Typical Institutional Framework for CETP as CEI

I spent around 8 years on CETPs as a Consultant to the World Bank under IPC and IPP projects. In this period, I had opportunities to interact with SPCBs, MoEF, Private sector and Industry Associations.

Each CETP company had their own method of sharing the 20% equity. Further, they used their own formula for computing the charges to be paid (to meet the operational costs) including repayment of the loan. The formula for charging typically considered effluent flow and effluent characteristics such Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD). In addition, each polluter was required to do certain minimum pre-treatment (e.g. neutralization). Additional costs included costs of managing effluent conveyance e.g. through a piped underground network or fleet of tankers.

Although essential, CETPs require today the Environmental Clearance (EC). MoEF has produced elaborate guidelines for this purpose.  EC for CETPs takes substantial time. Unfortunately, no one considers the “cost of delayed action” on the environment in the interim period i.e. in the absence of CETP!

There is a lot of unevenness across CETP companies today. There is no “national regulator” who controls and provides rationale for equity contributions (addressing the procedures for late entry and early exits) and importantly the basis of charging schemes. There is also no mechanism of “trading effluent loads” to encourage the effluent load reduction. Industries who reduce effluent load to the CETPs are generally discouraged as this leads to reduction in the revenue to the CETP.    I will highly recommend that readers to this post refer to the presentations made at a national conference in New Delhi on CETPs in 2014. I wish there was an active association of CETP companies at the national level to continue such dialogues.

There have been several reports on the performance evaluation of the CETPs by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), agencies like NEERI and Environmental NGOs. All these studies by different institutions indicate a high degree of non-compliance. Dealing with non-compliance of CETP could mean en-mass closure – that can have ramifications on the production and employment in the member industries. I had recommended that CETPs should be given operational subsidies over 5 years based on performance rather than one time capital grants. This recommendation was well received but not followed.

Some of the reasons for non-compliance at CETPs include lack of proper pre-treatment, extreme variability in the flow and composition of the influents, poor treatment design and operation and deficits in the cash flow due to inadequate collection of effluent charges. Many believe that the root cause of the problem is however lack of ownership.  When infrastructure is common, there is hiding of the identity. So, who cares? You simply pass the buck or blame each other.  Its more of an attitudinal or cultural issue – isn’t it? You badly need an iconic leader and a facilitator who motivates the CETP members and get them committed for the COMMON CAUSE. We do have such good stories to tell.

Today the CETP concept is expanded to address collective management of other residues e.g. hazardous waste and biomedical waste. CEIs that will manage E-waste will soon follow. CEI for management and recycling of Construction & Demolition (C&D) wastes are already established in Delhi. My organization Environmental Management Centre LLP recently drafted national guidelines for establishing CEI for C&D waste for GIZ.

CETPs are however gradually evolving to more sophisticated reuse and recovery systems (refer to Figure 2) and not just limit to compliance. CETPs are now being recognized as part of a more holistic treatment-recovery-reuse solution comprising of add-ons such a By-Product Recovery Facility (e.g. common chromium recovery in CETPs for tanneries, common solvent recoveries and common heat & power units), a water recycling facility (like operated at CETPs in Tirupur in India). CETPs are often expanded to include a Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility that can have a potential of recovery and recycling. It is important that any future funding of CETPs follows this holistic treatment-recovery-reuse solution, rather than restricting only to compliance. The Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) directive from SPCBs has been a driver in this direction. Sure, there will be motivation for Compliance, moment there are reverse operations (like water recycling) and clear financial returns.  

 

Figure 2: Gradual Evolution of CETPs from Standalone to More Sophisticated Reuse and Recovery Systems

As CEIs will spread to address specific waste streams like plastic, waste oil and metal scrap; there will be transformation of the informal sector. This sector that has major linkages will play a vital role if skilled and supported by micro-finance schemes and mentoring provided by the formal sector.  Waste to Energy is already a major CEI across the world.

Experience has shown that CEIs work best through PPP with lead taken by the private sector operator.  In such cases, Government provides concession or guarantees and does not invest. We should soon see more such CEIs in India. Example are Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) located in the industrial estates that are bided out. These MRFs essentially become gateway of Circular Economy by ensuring least leakage of material and energy flows outside the boundaries of the industrial estate. I wish the Industrial Development Corporations build MRF for every Industrial Estate as a part of the CEI apart from CETPs.  

I spoke top my Professor Friend about the evolution and future of CEI in India.  I also expressed my displeasure on the poor leadership of MoEF&CC in this sector and its lack of vision.

Professor lit his cigar and smiled at me. “Dr Modak, I agree with your concerns but you are still thinking conventionally”. He said

Haven’t you thought of CEI in the form of Common Environmental Monitoring Systems invested by private sector in cities and industrial areas? How about commonly designed and operated Environmental Information Centers that help in raising awareness, assist in decision making and help conduct scrutiny or independent evaluation? Disaster Management Centers around Industrial Estates is another example that can be considered as CEI.

I thought Professor was right. So much innovation is possible and experiences to share!

I realized we badly need a brainstorming on this subject at the national level. We must look into the Future of CEIs. Perhaps Mr. Hardik Shah, PS to the Hon Minister should consider holding such a meeting. He comes from the State of Gujarat that has maximum number of CETPs and Common Hazardous Waste Treatment & Disposal Facilities in the country,

You know my views now but I do hope Mr Hardik Shah is reading my blogs!


Cover image sourced from http://shreyanswater.tradeindia.com/common-effluent-treatment-plant-1252361.html


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Nights at the Ayurvedagram and the Ultimate Truth

[This is my 50th post  after the publication of my two books of blogs. I thought of celebrating the 50th post by writing on a topic that is little different. This post was written after a long and strange dream at the Ayurvedagram.]

I decided to spend two weeks in Ayurvedagram near Bangalore to address several of my health concerns. Most of my health problems were due to sheer negligence, lack of understanding and low priority given to my body and mind. But never too late, I thought. Ayurvedic therapy had worked for me in the past. I gave a long list of my problems to Dr Manmohan, the Chief Medical Officer. Dr Manmohan chalked out an elaborate plan for me for the required “correction” and “prevention”. I am sure coming up with such a plan was challenging to him.

I was tired of the multiple ailments however and wished that I could get another body for a change so that I could continue my work. But I knew that this would require some Godly intervention. So, when I was woken up at night by Lord Vishnu in Ayurvedagram, I was rather delighted.

Lord Vishnu heard my story patiently with a smile. He said “Dr Modak, you are still not understanding the Ultimate Truth and hence are worried about your health issues and thinking about the world of work.. Once you understand the truth, everything will be different and you will live differently”

I asked Lord how can I understand what you are saying.

“Well Dr Modak, I will have to “free” you for a while to experience. Come with me” said the Lord.

I soon realized that I had left my body. It was like a breeze as I was perhaps blessed. I was  floating in an astral form that had no more pains and the ailments. Lord Vishnu took my hand and navigated me.

We left the campus of Ayurvedagram, rose on the skyline of the Bangalore city, and gradually reached above the Indian peninsula where I could see both Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal. That was a fascinating view and it humbled me.

“We will go even further Dr Modak. We will exit the Earth shortly and move towards the Universe”. Lord Vishnu said.  His face had a different glow.

To me it was going to be a magic carpet ride and with none other than the Creator and Protector of the Universe. I considered myself  to be very fortunate.

In few minutes, we had left the Earth. The journey beyond was new and exciting to me.  After crossing several planets, we stopped.

“Now close your eyes Dr Modak” Lord Vishnu said. “You will soon realize the Ultimate Truth without me saying anything”

I closed my eyes.

I saw that nothing was existing contrary to what I believed. There was no earth and no planets.. and no mountains and the seas and no people. There was only light that encompassed the universe. There was a deep humming sound (Omkar – that is the primeval sound) giving vibrations. It looked like an everlasting or chirantan Brahmic universe with all the emptiness. And  yet it seemed complete.

And this universe was me.

Was that the Ultimate Truth?

I was in a trans.

After a while, Lord Vishnu asked me to open my eyes. I did not want to but I simply obeyed.

Lord Vishnu had taken by then his mighty form stretching the universe. I looked at his Viraat Swaroop or Vishvarupa. And I understood that I was Him too! We were not different.

Vishvarupa


Vishvarupa is considered the supreme form of Lord Vishnu, where the whole universe is described as contained in Him.


Lord Vishnu then assumed his humanoid form like before and navigated me back to the Earth and to the Ayurvedagram. We did not speak a word in this journey.  There was no need.

When Lord Vishnu put me back to my body, I realized that there was nothing much to worry or discuss about the ailments I was facing. There was nothing to fear as fear appeared irrelevant. Would you agree?

I realized that all I had to do was to put my body and mind to the best use I could – till I have.  Helping someone was logical as the one suffering was me and rejoicing in someone’s happiness was a joy – again to me.  I saw all the boundaries one perceives to be blurring.

But the realization of the Ultimate Truth put me to another difficult question. Knowing that nothing is real, should you be in the state of sthitaprajna?


The sthitaprajna is a free soul, ever steady in knowledge of Self. A sthitaprajna is also known as a jivanmukta, or one who is truly free while still living.

Though engaged in actions, being free from ego and free from motive, the sthitaprajna is not a doer of actions. Though having a physical body, the sthitaprajna is merely a dweller within the body and is unidentified with it.

The wisdom of the sthitaprajna is wisdom of a cosmic oneness. Ever established in the state of yoga, the sthitaprajna remains in constant union with God and, at the same time, is the ideal exemplar of karma-yoga, demonstrating steady wisdom through every action.


Attaining the state of sthitaprajna is perhaps ideal but certainly not easy. It is something that is to be realized and not learnt.

I thought of asking guidance from the Lord on how to accomplish this difficult task when and if he visits me again in the nights at the Ayurdevagram. Having exposed me to the Ultimate Truth, I thought He should enlighten me how to be in such a state.

I had several questions to ask.

If you have the answers, then please let me know. I would love to get your insight and guidance.

Was being with Lord Vishnu at the Ayurvedagram – a dream? Or was it a reality?

I leave it to you to decide.


Text on sthitaprajna taken from https://indiaspirituality.blogspot.in/2010/05/qualities-of-sthitaprajna.html


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The Story of Environmental Information Centre in India

It was June 1999. The Chambers at Taj Mansingh in New Delhi was booked for an important meeting. Those present included Mr. K Roypaul, Additional Secretary of Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Dr Dilip Biswas, Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Dr Subramanium, Director at MoEF, Richard Ackerman, Sector Director Environment, The World Bank; Hari Sankaran and Mahesh Babu from IL&FS Ltd. It was a small group and I was the presenter. Topic was Environmental Information Centre (EIC). The meeting began at 7 pm in the evening.

For many years, I was stressing the need to establish a national centre on Environmental Information. I saw its need for providing quality data in a comprehensive and timely manner to project proponents and consultants for conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). The regulators could use the Environmental Information Centre (EIC) to verify the baseline information provided and carry out regional and cumulative impact assessments to come up with recommendations on environmentally sound planning and development. EIC could mosaic the secondary data from key sources including remote sensed imageries and host this data and its interpretation on a WebGIS platform for the interest of all stakeholders including environmental NGOs and communities.  To ensure populating of the primary and current information, the data structures of the EIA reports could be standardized with mandatary data (and maps) uploads. EIC could also do the job of State Environmental Assessment and Reporting.  The ENVIS Centres of MoEF could be “connected” to the EIC to bring in and update thematic information on environment.

I was convinced that the EIC cannot happen solely with the Government. EIC had to be conceived as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). For promoting and operating EIC, private sector was needed and Government’s support was required to hook the data residing with various key ministries and departments and bring recognition. The attendees at the Chambers in Taj Mansingh therefore included Government  (Ministry and CPCB) and private sector with domain expertise and experience on PPP (IL&FS Ltd).  I was keen to involve academia as well such as Centre for Studies in Resources Engineering (CSRE) at IIT Bombay.

When EIC was presented and discussed, the World Bank was working with Ministry of Environment & Forests on the Environmental Management Capacity Building (EMCB) project. I made a plea to the World Bank and MoEF to use resources available in EMCB project to establish EIC in India. Richard Ackerman from the World Bank was present in the meeting for this purpose.

I had a very interesting position in this memorable meeting. I was a “friend” to MoEF, a consultant cum “insider” to the CPCB, and a consultant to The World Bank and IL&FS. I was thus the point of “intersection”. The discussions were therefore very cordial, full of ideas and support. Perhaps it was the best situation for me to make EIC happen.

And EIC happened. It got support of around 1 million USD from the EMCB Project and was installed as a pilot project with IL&FS Ecosmart Ltd.  States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat were chosen as the focal States for EIC to provide the service. Arc GIS was chosen as the platform. Nearly 30 “layers” of key information were prepared for the three focus States. To understand the “demand” and “supply” as well as commercials, several workshops were held. These workshops led to better understanding on the scope of the services of EIC.

IL&FS Ecosmart started “marketing” the services of EIC and several project proponents and consultants started placing orders for accessing information (as one stop shop) needed to conduct EIAs. Review committees at the MoEF used EIC service for verification of the information stated in the EIA report. The World Bank utilized EIC’s service for its projects, especially for screening and scoping. I was hoping that EIC will now escalate further to cover other States and provides service pan India as an independent institution.

The idea was to move EIC as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) after piloting for two years at IL&FS Ecosmart. SPV structure was necessary to make the operations autonomous and allow functioning like an independent business organization. Unfortunately, EIC as SPV did not happen. IL&FS Ecosmart could operate EIC only as a project. There were severe limitations as EMCB project got over. Mr. Roypaul had left MoEF by then and so also Dr Biswas at CPCB. The new team (especially Secretaries and Joint Secretaries) had reservations on the SPV concept.  The SPV concept for “servicing information” was perhaps too new or rather early at that time. After 2 years of pilot operation, EIC was shut down. I would squarely blame the MoEF and its bureaucracy for the closure or death of the EIC.

[ Last year the TSR Subramanium report stressed a dire need to set up EIC and to many it sounded as a new idea. Today, I understand that MoEFCC is envisaging a massive 5-year project in this direction with the help of National Informatics Centre (NIC). But I wonder whether such a fully Government owned and supply-driven model will ever work]

I remember I visited State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in Beijing for the World Bank in 2002. I mentioned about the concept of EIC and its benefits to the Director of SEPA. He was very attentive in listening to me. He called some four senior officials of SEPA immediately and engaged with discussions to get more insight. In the next mission I did to Beijing, I was told that EIC was established in China. It runs as a Government project today and not as a PPP – a structure that I would have ideally preferred. It lacks therefore the innovation element that is essential when you work with dynamic, diverse and BIG environmental data.  The Centre however delivers the data to the stakeholders and supports the EIA process. The Chinese implement, once convinced and not just talk.

Today several countries operate EIC. Most EICs are Government driven and some are Government owned but operated/managed by Private Sector or by Extensions of Universities. The latter seem to work better and are more efficient and effective. EIC in India must look at such hybrids.

My company, Environmental Management Centre LLP, operates a “mini EIC” that provides customized environmental information service to our clients. This service is getting popular. The key is not to provide just the raw data but provide insightful interpretation after application of data analytics as well as modeling. Examples of such applications are change detection to see impact of thermal plumes over time in the coastal areas, district level mapping of water stress that is based on water availability, quality and uncertainty due to climate change and  mapping of diversity indices of birds and bats around the wind farms etc. Operation of this “mini-EIC” helps my team to understand the dynamics of environmental data and importantly its role in decision making.

There have been however considerable improvements in data repositories and sharing of environmental information in India. Right to Information Act has perhaps been one key factor for the “push”.   The websites of regulators like Maharashtra Pollution Cntrol Board now provide considerable information with spatial visualization and the website of National Green Tribunal is rich with regular updates. Bhuvan database is another example that provides map based information. We will soon see dash boards in  smart cities based on real time data – that may contain important environmental information.

I still hope that EIC at national level on an overarching basis happens. Given the developments in IT and operations of several thematic and geographically distributed databases across institutions, its structure will have to be quite different than what I conceived in 1999. It may be in the form of a Mega-Portal sewing several databases for an organized access but with “intelligence”. Creation of indicators will be an important element of the analytics apart from “change detection”. I wish that we book Chambers at the Taj Mansingh once again for a discussion on EIC in this new context.

But if this meeting happens, I will certainly miss the team that was present in the Taj Chambers in 1999. Those encouraging and enriching discussions and the vision expressed on EIC will never be forgotten.


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