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Study of Rag Pickers in Kathmandu

Updated on February 15, 2011


The report has been the output of the one month of the survey research study conducted from April 15 to May 15, 2010. The research mainly based upon the questionnaire survey sample taken on the selected pocket area within Kathmandu valley.

The major objective of the study has been to find out the existing physical and socio-economic conditions of rag pickers involved in rag picking jobs, from which overall perspective of rag pickers are observed.

With reference to the survey data, the study further aims to cater the need and importance of rag pickers in the environment management of the city. With due consideration of their contribution, the report finally concludes to make an initiation in the social and governmental level in order to access these people as part of the society and the necessity to integrate to them in the formal market economy.


Urban poor and the existence of the informal job activities in the central urban city are inevitable phenomena. Among various informal activities seen in the urban center Rag picking is one of the most neglected sector. A considerable amount of urban poor are involved in these activities and for them it is the major job activities for their livelihoods.

Since the increase in the pace of urbanization, Kathmandu has also observed the growth of various informal sectors. People from all over the country flock to Kathmandu with a dream to have a happy living along with good income generating activities, as Kathmandu has been the prime center of economic market activities. But to the other side, Kathmandu has been observing the increasing pressure of social, economical and environmental conditions of the people living in the city.

Among all the major urban issues of Kathmandu, Solid waste management if one of the prime issues. Solid waste is an by product of human activities which tends to increase with rapid urbanization, improved living standards and changing consumption patterns. According to CBS (1997), only 17percent of urban households have their waste collected by waste collectors

Rag-pickers, who contribute to solidwaste management to some extent, are the people who rummagethrough garbage bins to pick out 'rags' for their livelihood.These rag-pickers usually collect the materials that have goodre-sale value as these materials are mostly recycled or re-used.In the present study, the collection and the management of solidwaste and the level of microbial pollution generated throughair, soil and solid waste were studied. A questionnaire surveybased on age, sex, educational status, socio-economic status,habits and health effects was conducted from 17 selectedrag-pickers from various places of Kathmandu.

This Study aims to gather information on the hazardous conditions of those urban poor who work as rag pickers and the manner in which these people are exploited.

With the advent of recycling practices, rag pickers have become part of the growing population of urban poor Kathmandu, Nepal.

This study is intended to provide details on the nature, processes, and problems of rag picking, including the perceptions and behaviors of these rag pickers towards education, work and society.

The study’s findings will serve to assist future action programs as well as to provide much needed background information. Either the Government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs)should devise a suitable proposal to monitor and make use ofthese unorganized rag-pickers who are indispensable to the society.


  • To identify general characteristics of rag pickers in Kathmandu
  • To examine the working condition and perceptions of rag pickers towards education, work and society
  • To account the status of rag picking business and their skills
  • To study their access to basic services such as water, sanitation, health services
  • To explore the socio-economic issues of rag pickers. 


The study is limited to the selected site within Kathmandu and Lalitpur. The study is based on primary survey data as well as secondary research data.

The number of rag pickers has been traced based upon the 16 different site chosen within Kathmandu Metropolitan City and Lalitpur Sub Metropolitan City.

Whereas survey from Okharpauwa landfill site is also taken as it is the major landfill site where most of the solid waste from Kathmandu and Lalitpur are finally dumped there.

The survey has been focused with the people working professionally as rag pickers.


Reconnaissance Survey

A quick survey of the potential sites of Greater Kathmandu and Okharpauwa site has been done to identify the major rag collection center. Tentative number of rag pickers in each area is estimated through Focus group discussions.

Sampling design

Sample size is designed viewing the number of locations of rag picking and of rag pickers counted in particular area.

Questionnaire design

Survey questionnaire is prepared guided by the objectives of the study. Also depending upon the site condition, the focused group discussions were also out to determine various issues.

Data collection

The tools used for collecting data were-

  • Interviews with stake holders like concerned municipal staff, scrap dealers, concerned organizations
  • Focus group discussions
  • Questionnaire survey for sample selected.
Data analysis

Data has been analyzed qualitatively to produce environment and frame work design 


What is rag picking?

The term rag picker currently refers to people who collect rags or recyclable materials that can be sold for money. Rag picking entails the sorting, collecting and selling of these various Waste materials that can be found at dumpsites, riverbanks, street corners, or in residential areas, and consist primarily of plastics, bottles, cardboard, tin, aluminum, iron, brass, and Copper. Plastic, tin and aluminum products are heavily sought after while paper goods rank low on the list.

Rag picking is the lowest economic rescue net to the poorest of the poor which is full of shirks. Families relying in this job involve women, and children in harsh working environment, weak social protection .They are the most of the time hated by the society. Rag picking is the job in which there are no certain limitations of age, sex and caste group. This is because rag pickers get paid according to the quality of the materials they sell to junkyards and garbage collection centers. As the market for recyclable materials has increased, urban poor have turned to rag picking as a means of survival. Based on our survey study at different potential site within Kathmandu, it is estimated that there are around 300 rag pickers engaged in rag picking in the various urban centers of Kathmandu.

Characteristics of Rag Pickers

Rag pickers have recently become part of the growing population of urban poor.

Most people who work as rag pickers come from rural areas, specifically from hill and Mountain regions. A disproportionate number of rag pickers are from the Dalit, Tamang and Magar ethnic groups, indicating that people from these groups are more prone to rag picking than from other groups. More male  than female engage in rag picking, and majority of them live in the street in temporary sheds , while few living in rented houses within the urban center.

The average age of a rag picker is economically active population (age 15 years to 59 years). Literacy rates of rag pickers are very low with majority of them illiterate.

Rag pickers usually come from poor rural families involved in non-agricultural, low-paying occupations. Family size and structure does not seem to directly influence, and most of the rag pickers come from families who own a house.

Conditions of Rag Picking

Rag pickers live from day to day; usually spending all the money they earn in a day, and are still often left without enough money to feed themselves. Rag pickers are most likely to go hungry during the rainy season when materials are wet and dirty and collecting them is difficult due to the rain and mud. Still, most of the people interviewed reported to work year-round. In addition to experiencing hunger, it is common for rag pickers to fall sick due to exposure to contaminants or bacteria, the cold, and wounds inflicted by sharp glass or metal objects.

The best hours to work are in the mornings and evenings when most people dispose of their garbage, but many rag pickers work for six to eight hours per day in their effort to survive. Earnings fluctuate between NRs. 250 to 500 per day.  Rag pickers tend to be territorial about their collection sites.

The role of the Rag Picker


  Rag pickers are the people who are actually going through the garbage bins to pick out the ‘rags’. These rag pickers, women, children, and men from the lowest rung in the society, are a common sight in most cities and towns around the country. Rag picking is considered the most menial of all activities and it is people who have no other alternative that are generally driven to it. Rag pickers contribute a great deal to waste management as they scavenge the recyclable matter thereby saving the municipality of the cost and time of collecting and transporting this to the dumps.

The rag picker has a special role to play in the segregation of waste. He/She is one of the focal points for the recycling of waste. He/She is the person who, in spite of all the dangers that he faces, goes on relentlessly picking through the garbage bin, looking for waste that could be useful to him. He/She sells all the material he picks to the whole sellers and retailers who in turn sell it to the industry that uses this waste matter as raw material. The main items of collection are plastics, paper, bottles, and cans.

Rag pickers are well coordinated in their method of working. Among themselves, they have a good understanding for operating by area. Each group takes specific items from the bins. It has been observed that more and more women and children are getting involved in the business of rag picking. This is a matter of concern as these children who should be spending their time in schools either studying or playing are instead putting themselves at risk by handling waste. While picking through waste, the rag picker puts himself at a great risk and is always prone to disease as the waste that he rummages through can be infected.  


Since rag pickers are seen almost everywhere within the city center of Kathmandu valley and Lalitpur area, to find out the exact number of them is quite a difficult task. So our study is mainly aimed to quantify the number of rag pickers based on the locations chosen.

Selected Site for the Survey Study

The selected site for the study has been chosen after general reconnaissance survey. Altogether 16 sites were chosen for the survey.

Major Rag Picking Site

Among 16 sites following are the major sites because

  • They are the prime dumping site within the valley
  • Majority of rag pickers are found within these sites
  • In certain sites rag pickers are found living near to the area where they pick rags. Hence their living environment can be studied.

A. Okharpauwa site

The site is around 25 km from the Kathmandu. It is the only landfill site of Kathmandu valley. Due to this, major rag pickers are seen flocked in this site for rag picking. Most of the rag pickers are local residents of Okharpauwa (about 70). According to the official member of Okharpauwa landfill site, there are currently 92 rag pickers, among which the survey of the 20 rag pickers was done.

B. Bagmati Corridor ( From Bagmati Bridge to Balkhu Bridge)

The site along the Bagmati river bank has been the major site for dumping the solid waste within Kathmandu Metropolitan City.

Along Bagmati river corridor, the site chosen was Below Sanepa bridge, Balkhu Sundarighat,

Along the corridor of Bagmati river, we found around 50 rag pickers among which 17 rag pickers were surveyed.

C. Tikathali

Tikathali is the temporary landfill site of the LaitpurSubMetropolitanCity, it has been used as landfill site since March 2010 in order to fill low laying private land under their request.

People working as rag pickers are fixed in this location i.e. 11 in numbers as the municipality has not permitted other people to rag picking.

D. Ekantakuna

In this area the rag pickers are found to collect waste dumped in the municipal container. These people involved in rag picking are associated with the private organization NEPSEMAC.

According to NEPSEMAC, the number of people engaged in rag picking and collecting waste is 60, out of which we surveyed 10 rag pickers on the site during our visit.

Along with these other major sites chosen for the survey are listed in the table below-

12 AM -2:00:00 PM
Land fill site
Bagmati Corridor ( From Bagmati Bridge to Balkhu Bridge)
10 AM TO 3 PM
Moving rag pickers
6:00 AM
Landfill site
NEPSEMAC, collector
Fulbari, collector
Below Balkumari bridge
Exhibition Road
Total Number

During our survey we visited sixteen different sites in different time of the day as shown in the table above. Total no of rag pickers found in those sites were two hundred and ninety-nine and among them ninety two were surveyed (approx. 30 %). From this survey following physical, social, economical aspect relating to the rag pickers were found.


Place of Origin of Rag pickers

Most rag pickers are found to be migrants coming from the peripheral districts of Kathmandu valley. Among the samples surveyed ,majority of pickers were found to be hailing from Bhaktapur,Dhading,Makwanpur,Rautahat,Sindhupalchowk.

Age, Sex, and Caste/Ethnicity

The data shows that the major rag pickers working are under the age group of 16-20 years i.e. the major economically active population are working in this job .Whereas number of people above 41 years working as rag pickers are very less(2 nos.) and at the same time no of people of the age group 10-15 years is also less(9 nos.) are Proportion of male rag pickers is found to be higher than female by 24.64%.

The major caste groups of people working as rag pickers are under Janajati group. Major caste group found are: Tamang. Chhetri, Muslim, Dalit, Madhesi, Tharu , Newar, Gurung etc.

Literacy of Rag pickers

Literacy is the major demographic indictor of knowing the country's development in educational field. As Nepal being the signatory of UN MDG, to provide primary education is the major challenge of the country, in this scenario, the survey found that the majority of rag pickers are uneducated with not even passing the primary education level. From the data 77% of the samples surveyed are found to be illiterate.

Family Size and Composition

Family is an important social institution of our country. Family setting is often regarded as a basic social institution of society and life. However, various factors may hinder the social disintegration of the family bonding. In this regard the various cases like people leaving their family for the various socio-economic reasons might hamper the the compositional structural constitutions of the family.

In this light, understanding the family background of rag pickers may help clarify their reasons for leaving home and education for a life on the streets. The average family size of rag pickers is 5.4 members and it was found that their spouse helps them to carry the Rags to respective buyers.

Perceptions about Work

During our survey and focused group discussions we found out that majority of people were satisfied with the job as rag pickers and were found involved in this work since last one decade. The major reason being easy association with the work and the fact that they can work independently and that they do not have to be under any people and under any rule and regulations.

However some people said that if given an opportunity they would like to work in formal job activities for the long term security and status in the society.

Working Hours, Earnings, and Spending

Working long hours is vital for rag pickers. Their earnings are directly related to the amount of items collected, which depends on the number of hours they work.

More particularly, the large majority of rag pickers work five to seven hours per day in the permanent land fill site area. The major peak hours of the rag picking is morning hour i.e 7 am to 10 am(78%).

Whereas the rag pickers involved in the rag picking in the small pocket area is found to be involved in average of 7 working hours per day.

From the data maximum no of rag pickers are found to be working 7 hours per day(45%) and most rag pickers are found to be working regularly in this job 7 throughout the week. Also from data we found most pickers prefer to work in group of 4-5 no. in average.

From the survey the daily income generated is found to be in average of Rs 500-Rs 750 from which the average monthly income of the rag pickers is found to be Rs. 15000-Rs. 22500.

Surprisingly, the monthly income of the rag pickers is above the range of normal government employee i.e. above Rs. 8000.So due to this they tend to be satisfied with their income and the job. But since their income is dependent on daily collection basis they lack in saving their income so as result of which the tendency to saving for future is very less. This has made left them either the less possibility of affording any future sudden need of fund.

Living Condition of Rag Pickers

Most of the rag pickers are the migrants from the various districts around the valley. They were found to be living in the rented house near the junkyards, riverbanks and nearer location of rag picking. Around 57% of the samples surveyed are living in kachhi houses and around 13 % were living in temporary sheds made out of material collected from the junk like tin, plastic, paper etc and 30% of people live in rented Pakki house where they use to pay rent about NRs. 1500 to 4500 per month.

Regarding access to safe drinking water and sanitation, 58% of people had access to drinking water from municipal supply whereas 42 % use various sources like boring water, well, river etc for drinking and 74% of the sample surveyed had access to toilet (borrow pit) and others resorts river banks and open air for defecations.

Most of the rag pickers were found to be living in unhygienic condition, as the house rented were old and in dilapidated condition and had several physical problems like dampness, poor light and ventilation, leaking roof etc.

Here we found that most of the Rag pickers had the problem of light and ventilation and the structure were temporary the problem of roof leaking, damp were also found. Multiple problems were seen in same house during our field visit.

Price per kg.
Polythene bags, sheets
milk plastics
Plastic bottle
Plastic products such as plastic bucket,
Rs. 2-3
Rs. 6-7

Major items collected in rag Picking

As defined the rag picking job is involved in the collection of the rags or recyclable materials which can be sold for the money. These materials mainly constitutes of plastic items such as plastic bottles, plastic sheets, metal items, papers, tins etc. These are sold under various rates as given by the junckyard and the broker.

Mostly the plastic items are the mostly picked rags as

· They are sold at higher rate

· They are found more in number and easy to pick

The type of materials gathered also depends on the amount of experience of the rag picker.

Newcomers prefer to pick easy-to-find materials such as plastics and bottles, while older ones

tend to be more selective and prefer to collect relatively more valuable goods such as metals, tins, bottles, or papers.

Work and Risks

There are genuine reasons why rag picking is considered one of the worst forms of labor. The risks related to the rag pickers health and physical development, as well as the hindrance this work places on their education and psychological development, make rag picking a particularly adverse occupation for children.

The major risk factor involved in this job as per our finding is the health related risk. As they have to be in prolonged exposure of dirty , rotten, and unhygienic organic and inorganic wastes they are more  vulnerable to diseases like diarrhea, respiratory disease, and and frequent fever. They use to go to general nearby medical to take medicine and they cure there disease as prescribed by the compounder of that drug house. For major disease and injury they use to visit Bir hospital, Teaching hospital and Patan hospital.

Estimates of Child Rag pickers
Sample Site
Kathmandu Valley
Estimate from survey data
CWIN: Bus Park Centers.
Estimate from survey data
Research: CWIN UBS,
Pokhara Municipality
Estimate from survey data
Child Contact Center, survey
Estimate from survey data
Narayanghat Youth Club
Adult ragpickers
Estimate from survey data
Child Protection Center
Estimate from survey data
Estimate for survey sites
Estimate for Total Nepal


According to the study conducted by ILO, about 3,965 child rag pickers are estimated to be operating in the various urban centers of Nepal, the highest concentrations of which are located in Kathmandu valley and Dharan. Most of these children come from rural areas, specifically from hill and mountain regions, and the proportion of them who are of Dalit, Tamang and Magar ethnic groups is quite significant17 compared to the national distribution of these groups. This may indicate that these ethnic groups have a comparatively higher probability to resort to rag picking than others.

The majority of rag pickers, whose average age is 12 years, are literate. In fact, the literacy rate amongst rag pickers is comparable to national averages, with boys much more literate than girls overall.

Family size and structure does not seem to directly influence the incidence of rag picking among children overall, though it may be noted that more girls come from larger families, and that more boys come from families with a stepparent. Similarly, most of the children come from families who own a home, however most are involved in non-agricultural, low-paying occupations. This clearly indicates that children involved in rag picking usually come from poor rural families.

The majority of boy rag pickers were considered ‘of the street,’ while almost all girls were living in rented or family homes. While the number of hours worked is similar for children in all categories, children 'of the street' tend to earn more than others in rag picking.


1. Private Organizations

Along with government sector, private sector is also found to be involved in the solid waste management. According to the Chairperson, Mr. Man Dhoj Moktan, there are 45 private organizations involved in solid waste management and they are mostly involved in -

Collection of solid waste from the specified ward and locality within KMC and LSMC

Dumping of these waste to the landfill site.

Among 45 private organization our study team visited to three organizations viz,

I. NEPSEMAC ( Kathmandu and Lalitpur)

The office is located in Ekantakuna and Sitapaila, the total number of people involved in rag picking is 50 in case of Patan and incase of Kathmandu is 70 (door to door collection).

I. II .WEPCO ( Women Environment protection committee)

WEPCO’s historic focus has been waste collection with the purpose of making a cleaner, more pleasant and safer environment for the householders of Lalitpur (door to door collection).

Every day, 6 tonnes of household waste is managed in the working area of Wards 1, 2, 10, 20.


The office is located in Satdobato and mainly involved in door door collection using cycle and rickshaws. The major workers involved in this organization belonged to the Tamang community of Nagarkot.

2. Rag pickers and the Junkyard Owners

Junkyards are the market center in which the rag pickers sell their collected rags. Rag pickers directly or through the brokers, sell their collected rags to these brokers.

The junkyards are the intermediate center for linking the sold rags between the rag pickers and the Industries where these rags are finally reused, such as Balaju, Butwal, Baihrawa.

According to the interview done among various junkyards person the average weight of rags per day collected is around 300- 400 kg. Rags sold in these junkyards are further segregated and in each junkyard almost 6-10 people are engaged working for the segregation.

Primary locations of junkyards are Along Bagmati river corridor, Teku, Kalanki, Maharjgunj, Samakhushi.


The management of solid waste is under the Environment Department of the Municipality,(Kathmandu and LalitpurMunicipality).Under this management of Solid waste is mainly concerned-

1.      Establishment of  waste collection sites;

2.       Solid waste transfer station

3.      Landfill site management

4.      Conduct regular training programs for local wards on waste segregation methodology based on 3R's ;

5.      Regularly conduction of  cleanup programs

There has been no such initiative made from any government agencies to formalize and upgrade their living and economic activities.

Municipality under Local Self Governance Act is the only concerned with management of site for dumping solid waste. It is more concerned with the physical management of the solid waste site where as the socio-economic management has always been neglected.

There has been no such legal registered organization involved for the management and up gradation of living hood of rag pickers. So right from the institutional level they have been neglected.

Only those rag pickers involved with the private organization has been found involved in the workers association under different political affiliation, such as "Akhil Nepal Sarsafai Majdoor Sangh", whereas the rag pickers working informally have not been found under any legal institutions.



Our study from the selected site within Kathmandu and Lalitpur shows that the Rag picking has been one of the important economic income generating activities for the urban poor residing the city center. They have been involved in this job activity because they have not been able to get the job as they desired to get it in the city center.

People involved in these activities were found to be mostly economically active population who come to city center with the hope and dream to get the better future .The major factor for their living hometown has been the push factors such as poverty and lack of job, rather than the pull factor of the city center. Being the informal income market economy, rag picking has provided them with the easy and quick money generating activities with very less legal obligations and formalities needed to be dealt.

Among the 91 people interviewed almost 70% people were found to be satisfied with the job, and the job has given them an opportunity to sustain their life in Kathmandu. The waste which the general people dispose as the unwanted and undesired commodities has in fact been the major job generating activities for the urban poor of the city center.

Rag pickers who are always seen as the nuisance and always been discriminated as the lower grade of people especially by the middle and upper middle income people , has in fact being contributing in the environment protection of the city caused due to the solid waste disposal. The waste such as plastics, plastic bottles which otherwise would have created environmental problem, have been reused for producing new products.

Rag picking is one of the important elements in cyclic process of reusing the materials by the formal industrial market economy, but till now they have always been in the darker shade. Neither the society nor the Government has been able accept their contribution in city economy and in the environmental protection.

Though the rag picking is directly or indirectly involved with the solid waste management, due to lack of legal institutional frame work and social awareness of the people, the   voices of rag pickers have been found to be unheard and resulted in the dismay. Also there are no proper legal tools to look after their hygienic condition during their job activities and most of the rag pickers interviewed are uneducated and are rural migrants, so they have less awareness regarding the hygiene condition, and hence are found to be very vulnerable to the diseases.


Rag pickers are urban poor in terms of being isolated to enjoy the city facilities and city development activities. But in terms of income source, our study found that they also earn the income as compare to the average middle income group of the average city dwellers.

For the city economy to prosper it is very important to have the integration of formal and informal markets, because these two factors are complementary to each other. So, instead of accepting rag picking and rag pickers as the nuisance of city environment, we need to accept them as the part of the society and need to integrate them to city activities.

Small interventions from the government sector and at policy level can help to integrate their role with the urban economy and at the same time help in the up gradation of their livelihood.

1)        Legal Institutions

As seen from our study there is absence of responsible bodies to deal and monitor the job activities of the rag picking, due to which the rag pickers are being isolated from the platform, were they can raise their voice. If only government could integrate their activities within their policy level, their jobs would be given more important.

A formal recognition from the Government sector is important in order to monitor and manage the activities of the rag picking. In this case , line agencies such as  Municipality, Ministry of Local Development, Ministry of Physical Planning and Work, Ministry of  Labor and Transportation has to be specific with their job responsibilities and inter coordination among them is important, so as to be consistent with major objective of the national planning approach. The protection of their rights from the constitutional level is important so that the nations sees these people as the part of the society and are not discriminated.

The major ministries that could help in defining the legal framework of rag pickers are-

Planning Interventions
Ministry of Physical Planning and Works
Physical up-gradation through socio-economic upgrading
Ministry of Labor and Transportation
Defining rights and responsibilities of rag pickers as an important labor force so as to protect their basic human rights as the citizen of the country.
Ministry of Local Development
Facilitate and define the job activities of municipality so that the municipality could work in the up gradation of socio-economic activities of the rag pickers, and manage and promote job specific activities.
Incorporate implementable plans through action plans periodic plans so the voices of these groups are heard and addressed. It should incorporate rag picking as part of solid waste management of the urban center. Promote incentive based activities.

2)        Health Awareness

Rag picking is an important element in solid waste management which is the major department of Municipality. But municipality as such has not been found doing anything for the management of this activity. If only municipality make interventions like giving proper guidance, organizing training and awareness campaign regarding health hygiene can help to be important interventions in safeguarding the rag pickers form the halt hazards due to rag picking.

3)        Community Based Activities

Rag pickers are seen working in their community group. They seem to have the strong community group interaction sharing their common needs and problems . So if only government along with private organization work to increase community based activities, their livelihood will be upgraded.

4)        Promote Public Private Partnership

Many private organizations are also involved in collecting solid waste. Under this various people are seen working as rag pickers. But the proper co-ordination among government and these private sectors is still lacking so the government should promote activities to uplift the private organization through policy interventions such as incentive based activities.


1)      Situation of Child Rag pickers in Nepal: A Rapid Assessment, ILO REPORT,2001

2)      The study on solid waste management for KathmanduValley, Final Report, Vol : Executive Summary-sep 2005.

3)      Role Of Informal Solid Waste Management Sector And Possibilities Of Integration; The Case Of Amritsar City, India

4)      Different internet websites


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    • profile image

      vijai krishna 

      6 years ago

      a good work. same type of work is going on by me in india,

    • profile image

      anmol dahiya 

      6 years ago

      to eat the food of two time they have to do this type of work.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • Ez Kay profile image

      Ez Kay 

      7 years ago

      Excellent research, thanks for sharing.


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