Hon. Justice T. W. Rajaratnam
Name - Hon. Justice T. W. Rajaratnam
Date Of Birth - 21st December 1920
Date Of Death - 15th January 1994



HQA - Hilal e-Quaid-E-Azam
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Judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
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Total Articles :    8

  •  Articles On
    • MAVERICK JUDGE FROM SRI LANKA By Shahid Ali, Karachi. From The Pakistan Times, Monday April 3, 1989
    • Mr. Justice (Retd.) Rajaratnam from Sri Lanka, who is visiting Pakistan to participate in the International seminar on The Legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is one of the few foreign jurists who have made in depth studies of the Bhutto Trial. His findings were published last year in the form of a 288 page book titled “A Judiciary in Crisis? - The Trial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto”.
      Mr. Rajaratnam did his bar from Lincoln’s Inn, and practiced law for many years before joining the judiciary. He served as a judge of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court from 1970 to 1978 when, under the new constitution promulgated by Mr. Jayawardene, the judiciary was reorganized.
      Mr. Rajaratnam is a sprightly old man and he attributes his enthusiasm for the rule of law to his rebellious heart. “I was a maverick on the Bench,” he proclaims with pride.  This self acquired title has a story.
      He was hearing a human rights petition during Mrs. Bandaranaike’s premiership. The Chief Justice suggested to him that it would be inadvisable to give a verdict that might embarrass the lady in power. He was told that his chamber would be locked and he would be prevented from entering the court room. But Mr. Rajaratnam stuck to his guns and declared that he could deliver his judgement in a corridor on the court premises.  In times of stress, the judges had a special duty to assert their right to give independent judgements, he said.  And he won a point not only for himself but for the entire Sri Lankan Judiciary.
      The story does not end here. Mrs. Bandaranaike repaid the defiant judge by nominating him as one of her party’s representatives in the present Parliament.
      However, Mr. Rajaratnam is extremely critical of the Sri Lankan Judiciary’s performance during the years of the ‘long Parliament’ (1977-88). “ The huge majority  Mr. Jayawardene’s UNP had won in the 1977 elections,”  says Mr. Rajaratnam, “ was used by it to weaken itself-it took actions  that raised grave  constitutional  crises”.
      The former judge refers to Article 161-E of the old Constitution whereby the life of the Parliament should have ended not later than six years after the polling. But instead of new elections by 1993, the Parliament extended its tenure for another five years. The issue was raised before the country’s Supreme Court which declined to give a ruling on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction on the matter. The country was deprived of the benefit of the wisdom of the court in its moment of crisis.
      The extension of the Parliament’s life through a referendum became one of the factors that gave rise to agitation and violence in Sri Lanka. Rajaratnam makes it a point to emphasize that all the crises Sri Lanka has faced in the recent years have erupted after July 1983 – the point at which the normal term of the Parliament elected in 1977 was to end.
       For instance, the youth (between 20 and 28 years of age) became restive. They were entitled to vote in 1983. Denial of this right pushed them into the politics of violence.  Mr. Rajaratnam likens the journey of Democracy between 1983 and 1988 to a flight in rough weather. “The plane ran into air pockets quite frequently, and ultimately crash- landed in December 1988” he says.
      When asked about the Sri Lankan political crisis, Mr. Rajaratnam is quite categorical in his assertion that one of the principal reasons of the political turbulence was the breakdown of the rule of law.  The Chief Justice and two other judges were arraigned before a parliamentary committee, thus compromising the status of the judiciary as an independent organ of the state.  The report of the parliamentary   committee was highly controversial.  Then, with the court’s judgement on a human rights petition which resulted in Mrs. Bandaranaike losing her civil rights, a fundamental human right was denied.
      As regards the spread of violence in Sri Lanka over the past few years, Mr. Rajaratnam says:  “You cannot prevent terrorism by resorting to oppressive laws.  We had our Prevention of Terrorism Act and the relevant emergency regulations. The result was that terrorism escalated.  Then a military solution to a political issue was attempted. That too, was bound to fail. The plain fact is that oppressive laws offer no solution to a political problem. The rule of law can only be enforced through normal laws.”
      Mr. Rajaratnam is especially keen to focus attention on the political implications of the 1977 elections in Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.  “We were moving towards an order based on equity and social justice.  The trend towards escaping from American bondage was clear. After July 1977, there was a complete swing to the Right. “
      He leaves it to the people of the region to draw their own conclusions.
      Sri Lankan Parliamentarian and former  Supreme  Court  Judge T.W.Rajaratnam  was honoured by the people of Pakistan and Prime Minister  Benazir Bhutto’s  Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) when he was invited to join a panel of international dignitaries to address a seminar  held to mark the tenth death anniversary  of former Pakistani  Prime Minister  Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
      Humanism is the philosophy of the Soviet People. Their concern for the well-being of their fellow citizens, the respect for equality as well as the upholding and consolidating justice are shining examples of this fact.
      The basis for the development of a society is justice and equality. And this is evident in the rapid development of the Soviet Union which is a multi-national state. Law and Justice are administered by the people. An interesting attribute of the Union is that rehabilitation programmes are conducted in respect of minor offenders.
      The Soviet Union is a peace- loving entity that really works for the cause of peace. But it should be said that in the face of imperialist manoeuvres, the strengthening of defence capabilities is necessary.
      These observations were made by T.W.Rajaratnam- former Supreme Court judge- at a meeting held on Monday the 12th October, 1981 at Colombo.
      T.W.Rajaratnam, who is a Vice- President of the Lanka- Soviet Friendship League, was a member of the delegation which visited the Soviet Union together with Shelton Ranaraja, the Deputy Minister of Justice.
      The meeting was presided over by T.B. Subasinghe, President of the Sri Lanka- Soviet Friendship League. Rajaratnam said that he was interested in the Soviet Union from his undergraduate days in the University of Ceylon.
      His first visit served to clear all doubts and discredit all negative accounts of the Soviet Union.

  •  Articles By

      There were times when lawyers assisted in the administration of justice and in the maintaining of the rule of law. Today, that is not the case.
      One of the direct results of this is that today only the rich go to court. This is not surprising as on an average a competent lawyer’s fee for an appearance in court is Rs. 5,000/.  If an ordinary man is in court today it is because he is languishing in court. Of course part of this is due to the cost of living and inflation.
      It is also well known that in the case of the labour tribunal, it is only the rich companies that are in court.  An employee cannot have an expensive counsel, nor can he afford to keep the case in court through all the law’s delays.
       We have in this country, the complete collapse of the rule of law. Litigation expenses are fabulous. Then there are the law’s delays. There are 23,000 appeals pending in the Appellate Court for disposal. Maintenance cases form quite a sizeable number and some of them have been pending for over 5-6 years.
      Earlier, lawyers did not contain themselves to fighting cases but also fought for causes.  The last of these great lawyers I believe, was S. Nadesan, QC.  I know of cases where he appeared free of charge or even paid and maintained his client.
      In one instance, I remember being retained as a junior counsel to Nadesan in an election petition case which was filed against Tamara Illangaratne. The case went on in Hultsdorp for over a month. Nadesan, who was not paid a fee for appearing, appeared because he felt an election victory for the Illangeratnes of Kandy was a progressive step in the political context of that time.  Mrs. Illangeratne won the case and was awarded substantial costs.  I was paid Rs. 50/= a day by Jack Kotelawela- and a dinner at the Free China Hotel.  When the costs were paid, Mr. Nadesan came to the YMCA and gave me the princely sum of Rs. 750/=, a sum I had never before handled in my life – and gave the rest of the money to Mrs. Illangaratne. Such was the nature of the man.
      In the Bracegirdle case a galaxy of lawyers appeared free of charge to uphold the principle that the British Government could not order the deportation of Bracegirdle.
      In more recent times some lawyers have paid with their lives for appearing in human rights cases.
      Of course, in every profession one finds people with different philosophies. It cannot be said, however, that lawyers have not contributed to the laws’ delays.  As much as members of the clergy, universities and other institutions have not behaved in a manner in keeping with the high standards expected of them, the same can be said of lawyers. Perhaps it is a crisis of our time.


    • Mr. T W Rajaratnam, (SLFP) speaking in Parliament yesterday on the votes of the Ministry of Justice said that President Premadasa had been fair in the appointment of judges.
      He also said that the Presidential system safeguarded certain interests of the minorities.
      He said “Mr. A.C.S. Hameed said that the President does not interfere in considering the seniority of judges.  I endorse his view.  He has been fair in appointing members to the Judicial Services Commission.  Judges who had given decisions against the Government have also been included in the Commission.  The only other Prime Minister who acted in this manner was S.W.R.D Bandaranaike.
      I am not a legal luminary, but I am a legal firefly.  I am also proud to be a sacked judge. I was sacked by the Dharmishta government of President Jayawardene.
       The law’s delay is a common problem. Thousands of Appeal Court cases have not been disposed of. The rule of law has collapsed. This is a matter for concern”.


    • When one speaks of the Jathika Chinthanaya, I remind myself first that I am neither a Sinhalese nor a Buddhist and, therefore, I must examine myself to give an objective point of view.
      I however, accept Buddhism as a great philosophy which treats mankind as one entity. It makes no difference between man and man; it teaches a universal philosophy. The adherent of the Jathika Chintanaya must examine the question of whether their philosophy takes away something from this perennial and universal philosophy.  Secondly, they must ask the question of whether Buddhism is intended exclusively for the Sinhalese.  Is their philosophy divisive?
      I have heard it said that the Jathika Chintanaya is a fundamentalist, chauvinistic movement.  But these derogatory remarks are not arguments. What is important is tolerance and understanding by those propagating the Dhamma. There must be a realization that the Dhamma is Buddhism and no movement should damage the Dhamma.
      The Jathika Chintanaya must be consistent with humanism.  If it is not, it is contrary to the Dhamma. Secondly, the Sinhala race must not alienate the friendship of other races in the country. It is counter-productive for the Sinhala race to disregard the wisdom of co-existence with other races.
      The world is shrinking day by day, and nothing must be done to build fences around one particular race.   Banning the drinking of Coca Cola is among those in the philosophy of the Jathika Chintanaya, which I approve.  It is one of those drinks that fail to give any nourishment, and what’s more can be a danger- like other sweet drinks-to one’s health.  On the other hand, if the drinking of Coca Cola was to be banned hundreds of people would be out of jobs!
      Today, with a free run for profit motivation, the Tanha of the businessman has increased. Unbridled Tanha creates ‘perethayas’, and it is not wrong to say that our economic system is generally controlled by ‘perethayas’ and, strange as it may seem, the unrest and disturbance in the country and outside is due to the sense of insecurity on the part of the super rich.  For the greater happiness of the greater number, man must unite to fight oppression, and not allow chauvinism to stand in the way of unity; and concerted effort must be made to defeat the capitalist super rich class.
      The lessons of history are that chauvinism and fundamentalism have only contributed to enormous profit making by arms dealers and drug pedlars.  The seats of learning must be exclusively devoted to the acquisition of knowledge.


    • Retired Supreme Court Judge T.W. Rajaratnam makes a strong case against fundamentalism whose roots go back to ancient times, and calls on the religious and rational to fight these tendencies. This is an excerpt of an article by him. 
      When discussing Religion and Rationalism two questions have to be considered.  One, whether Rationalism and Religion can co- exist, and two, if so does Rationalism subject itself to some qualifications and modification, and likewise, does Religion also subject itself to some qualification and modification?
      First, let us have some sort of consensus on the meaning of the terms “Religion” and “Rationalism”.
      Religion means a belief in, or acceptance of a persuasion or philosophy, which does not (more often than not,) exclude the supernatural.  On the other hand, Rationalism is also a philosophy, if not a persuasion which propounds the theory that reason is the foundation of certainty in knowledge, and reason is the ultimate authority.
      In practice, Rationalism seeks to explain what may appear to be supernatural in a way consonant with reason.  Where reason ends, belief begins.
      Hinduism is not one religion. It is the history, content and practice of many religions and thought ranging from animal worship to the highest Vedanta philosophy.  It is polytheistic and monotheistic, it is rational and irrational, it is superstitious and non superstitious.
      It embraces Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism. It is natural and supernatural.   It embraces all religious thought. It is both a religion and a philosophy. It has everything and nothing, so to speak, on its Menu Card, and you can take what you like, or leave it.
      It culminates in Man being God himself, going beyond the concept of Man being made in the image of God.  It also includes the concept of God being man. It is symbolic and non symbolic.
      The Rationalist sees the rational meaning behind the symbol, and the believer sees the idol as the reality.  When one says he is a Hindu, it is far too general a term.
      In Hinduism, there is animal worship, the Brahmin cult, the caste tyranny, and the Priesthood.  There is fundamentalism on the one hand, and the highest tolerance on the other.
      Buddhism grew on Hindu soil. It was the intellectual flower that blossomed on Hindu soil. The Vedanta philosophy is the spiritual flower that grew of Hindu soil.
       Though Christianity did not grow on a Hindu soil, the message of Christ is the message of Love, a message of Universal Love which, significantly, is the message in the essence of the intellectual and spiritual flowers, that is to say the essence of Buddhism and the Vedanta philosophies.
       Whether it is the Fatherhood of God, or the Brotherhood of Man, as preached by the Prophet, mankind belongs to one family; and man is involved with man.
      The Dhamma is a perfectly rational philosophy. Is it possible for a Rationalist to quarrel with the Four Noble Truths, And the Noble Eightfold Path? The Rationalist- if he does not like the term Noble- can call these concepts the Four Rational Truths, and the Eightfold Rational Path, Peace of Mind. Surely a Rationalist is not averse to peace in the world, and peace of mind!
      Why should a Rationalist quarrel with the message of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount? Why should the Rationalist quarrel with the concept of Divinity of Man- as expressed in the Vedanta philosophy?
      If he does not accept the concept of Divinity, let him amend it to the concept of the Dignity of Man.  What is irrational in the teaching of the Prophet to the society of his times?  The essence of all these teachings is rational. It is Love and Humanism.
      We are asked by the teachings of the Buddha to be compassionate and kind.  We have been told that greater than the building of temples, lighting of lamps and offering of flowers, is one kind act to a fellow human being.
      We have been told to take a lesson from the bee that collects and keeps in reserve only that much honey from the flower that is sufficient for its sustenance, lest it damage the flower, and we are advised not to take from society more than we need, for the sake of the preservation and stability of society.  Is there anything irrational in all this?
      Christ told the crowd who wanted to stone the fallen woman to death because she had sinned:  “He amongst you who has not sinned- let him cast the first stone” Christ did not make a difference between Jew and Gentile.
      The Buddha said that a Brahmin is not one by birth, but by conduct. The teachings of Christ were critical of Jewish society; the teachings of the Buddha were in effect to reform Hindu Society. Was there anything irrational in all this?
      Was it not Love and Reason that motivated these great teachers? They had no vested interest to protect.  What is irrational in the Brotherhood and the Way of Life preached by the Prophet and in his words of wisdom?
      Fundamentalists on the other hand, in every religion, have no use for the essence and spirit of the teachings of the masters.  Rationalists can see them in the course of history as the cause of wars, bloodshed and horrible crime.
      These wars are invariably self motivated to safeguard their vested interests in established society.
      The revolution of October 1917 in Russia where comparatively only a few were killed is still called a  Bloody Revolution,  whereas  religious wars  continue to be called  Holy Wars and  Crusades, despite the casualties running into millions over the years, keeping man in bondage, ignorance and suffering.
      Fundamentalists survive and thrive on the ignorance of people, whom they keep brainwashed with their theories; and it is true that Fundamentalists largely contribute to man’s inhumanity to man. It helps the oppressors to continue the oppression of the oppressed with the help of the oppressed whose ignorance, superstition and fear of the supernatural are exploited by these so called religious purists.  Ignorance, fear, superstition and the supernatural are the old timeless weapons of the Fundamentalists to avail themselves of the help of the oppressed themselves; and the fourth hand is waved to convey the reassuring message- “Do not fear”.
      Voltaire said we must not discard religion without finding a substitute for it.  We will not venture to convert Mother Theresa to Rationalism without religion.  Just as religion can breed the fundamentalist, Rationalism can also breed a fundamentalist and a fanatic.
      We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Religion must drive out the fundamentalist. It must be a concerted effort. The Rationalist can help in this noble endeavour.

  •  Appreciations
    • A Man with a Spark of Greatness - By Chelvatamby Maniccavasagar

    • “A   great  judge  must be  a man with a spark of greatness to start with;  his job is the applied practice of wisdom and justice, and these may not be borrowed from any of the calf-bound books, but must spring from the man himself”  So said a former Attorney General and later Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.
       Mr. T.W. Rajaratnam, retired Supreme Court Judge, was honoured by the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the 42nd Anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence.
      He was conferred the Civil Award  “Hilal –iz-  Quaid  Azam” for his meritorious services to Pakistan as well as invaluable contributions in championing the rights of individuals in Third World countries. This is a high civil award in Pakistan and conferred only upon eminent persons who have distinguished   themselves by rendering exceptional services in their respective field of activities.
      Mr. Tellipalai Wanarajah Rajaratnam is an Old Boy of Trinity College, Kandy, and son of the late Mr. D.C. Rajaratnam, a leading proctor in Jaffna. He is a classic honours graduate of the London University who was admitted to the Bar as an advocate in 1948. In 1951he left for England where he was called to the English Bar from Lincoln’s Inn. He practiced as a Barrister in London for a short period, having joined the Chambers of Mr. Glyn Blackledge Q.C.
      On his return to Ceylon he resumed practice at the unofficial Bar, mainly on the Criminal sides in both the original and Appellate Courts. Among the cases he appeared in were the famous Sathasivam murder case, and the Bibile MP Murder trial. Besides these, he appeared in several cases as junior to Mr. H. Sri Nissanka. (King’s counsel)
      He was at one time Vice- President of the Ceylon Classical Association.  At the Ceylon Law College he edited the college magazine. He had contributed several articles on different topics to the national dailies which are of a high standard. His articles under the headline “Hulftdorp – the other side”   which appeared in the Sunday Observer were very interesting and greatly appreciated by everyone.   He was also a member of the Criminal Justice Commission.
      He is a polished and elegant speaker.   He has a puckish sense of humour.  With his sense of humour he related the story to a friend, of how he came to be the Chief Guest at a seminar of the Sri Lanka    Women Lawyers Association on the theme   “The Disabilities of Women under Law and Practice”. The Secretary of the Association had gone into his Chambers and extended the invitation.  The chivalrous male that he is, he had accepted. Then, in the same breath she had told him how relieved she was – because the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General , both of whom had been asked, had refused-(for good reasons, no doubt!) So, he was being asked to fill the breach.  Mr. Justice Rajaratnam found a moral in the story-“No woman” he said “was ever known for her judgement, and no woman could keep a secret”
      Once, when he delivered a lecture on “Justice in The Labour Tribunal”, he said the majesty of the Law was in its enforcement, beauty, in its simplicity, justice in its fairness for the social good, and service in its concern for the employer, the employee and the state.
       In one of his articles under the headline” Towards a Socialist Philosophy”, he said that humanity awaits a society which is socialist in structure, and socialist in spirit, where socialism is both a philosophy and a religion. For the sustained happiness of man, a socialist philosophy needs a new dimension which can come only from a dialectical religion. Only a dialectical religion can be grafted to a dialectical philosophy for the ultimate happiness of man.
      He went on to quote Lord Buddha, and said that the Buddha was a people’s philosopher, and his message was a down to earth simple one to be understood by the common man.  He said the Lord Buddha’s message does not carry any threat – it is a message to be lived by men, and not preached by pundits.
       He further said that to a world lost in error, and beset by illusions of time, the greatest need today was loving kindness. As the light of the moon was sixteen times stronger than the light of the stars in the sky, so loving kindness was sixteen times more efficacious in liberating the heart than all religious accomplishments taken together.
      Mr. Rajaratnam served Sri Lanka in different capacities with unsurpassed distinction and unsullied honour.

    • T.W. Rajaratnam - A Reformist Judge with High Ideals. - By Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, Mansfield College, Oxford

    • The death of former Supreme Court Judge, Tellipalai Wanam Rajaratnam MP after a prolonged illness, marks the end of a distinguished legal, academic and political career. In his diverse fields of activity, he displayed a deep commitment to liberal democratic values and to social justice. His passing away is therefore a tremendous blow to those who cherish those values.
      His legal career was a continuation of the traditions of a family of leading Jaffna and Colombo lawyers. After completing his secondary education at Trinity College, Kandy, the late Justice Rajaratnam obtained degrees in Western Classics and Law from the University of London.  He was called to the English Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in August 1948. He rapidly built a nation-wide criminal and labour law practice in Sri Lanka. His forte and favoured aspect of the law was criminal law.
      The late Justice Rajaratnam’s approach to the law was marked by the same reformist and progressive tendencies which featured in other aspects of his career. One of his primary concerns was the need for the law to be simple and accessible to the ordinary citizen. He felt that law and the administration of justice should not be the monopoly of the legal profession. His rapidly expanding practice was curtailed by his appointment as a Commissioner of Assize in 1972. He continued in that capacity until 1978 in this important phase of his career. His judicial career was characterized by incisive legal judgements and uncompromising spirit. His career was unceremoniously   interrupted by the reconstitution of the Supreme Court in 1978.
      Unable to resume his legal advocacy due to his former judicial appointment, trade union activity, politics and scholarly pursuits took centre stage in the late Justice’s career. He had for many years been actively concerned about the plight of industrial and estate workers. He published two books- “A Manual of Industrial Law” and “Plantation Worker’s Manual”.  Both these authoritative books were designed to educate ordinary workers in the complexities of industrial law and labour tribunals. He became a regular contributor to journals on legal issues, particularly on questions of access to justice.
      What is perhaps the most remarkable instance of the late Justice Rajaratnam’s determination to uphold liberal values and the rule of law was his book-“The Bhutto Trial”. His legal study of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, is the only one of its kind, and is critical of the reasoning of the Pakistani Supreme Court.  The idea for the book emerged totally fortuitously during a visit to Pakistan for a conference.  He was honoured for his international efforts to uphold the rule of law by becoming the only Sri Lankan to receive Pakistan’s highest civilian award “Hilal e-Quaid-E-Azam” in 1989.
      In 1989, Mr. Rajaratnam’s views found a larger forum as he was nominated to the parliament by the S.L.F.P.  Rajaratnam was not seen as a parochial, partisan figure and his nomination to Parliament as a national figure in Parliament, he overcame the challenge of his failing health to become a spokesman on trade union rights, civil liberties and minority rights. He often raised the level of debate above narrow party political lines.
      One of Mr. Rajaratnam’s memorable qualities was his acerbic wit and self –effacing sense of humour. He often remarked that the honours he received were due to his way with women, because the world’s first female head of government and the Muslim world’s first female Prime Minister had both honoured him.

    • T.W. Rajaratnam - By B.T.Chinnaiyah

    • The passing away of T.W.Rajaratnam has removed from our midst a noteworthy personality whose life, it may be said, was characterized by independent thinking and a fearless expression of views.
      “Wanam”, as he was popularly known, was a person of wide interests, who took a keen interest in issues of national importance.  He stood for the rights of individuals, and championed the victims of injustice and oppression. So great was his zeal in this respect, that he even wrote a book to draw attention to a miscarriage of injustice in Pakistan.
      As a student of the classics he was noted more for his quick grasp of facts and ideas than for a memory for detail.  He once told me- a batch-mate at the then University College, that what he aimed at was to acquire the gist of what he read rather than load himself with knowledge. Perhaps he was right in this, because mere knowledge can often be inert or unproductive.
      In politics he was inclined towards the Left and though a Christian, he was deeply interested in Buddhist philosophy. Such was his open- mindedness.
      Another trait that was noticeable in him was his humility; a quality that was evident even when he held the exalted office of a Supreme Court judge. It may be said of him that he could “... walk with kings, nor loose the common touch.”
      What one may remember most about him is his geniality of manner and the warmth of his friendship. He took an abiding interest in his friends and, while discussing a problem, would always give his sincere and valuable suggestions.
      Men of Wanam’s stamp are rare.  One wishes that there were more like him in our public life.

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