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Author: Spandana Reddy Bommu, II year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad


Negligence is the failure to exercise the care of an ordinarily prudent and careful man who had been the dominant standard of civil liability for accidents for the past century or so, and the present paper focuses on one such case. The researcher examines the facts of the case, which deals with negligence by the authority, and if the current issue attracts the legal principle of Res Ipsa Loquitor, which means the things speak for themselves. Nonfeasance which means failure to perform an act that is required by law, this topic plays a significant role in the current context and an in-depth analysis of whether the constitutional dimension of Nonfeasance is appropriate for the instant case.In the end, the researcher provides a conclusion and a suggestion concerning negligence in general and to the case as well.

KEYWORDS: Negligence; Res Ipsa Loquitor; Nonfeasance; Civil liability; Constitution.


British rule gave more significance to the law of torts in India. It was also British that governed the principle of compensation for an individual affected by an unlawful act. The tort of negligence has been called the modern tort par excellence and is the primary source of tort litigation in India and elsewhere.

The tort of negligence has been known as the cutting edges misdeed second to none and is the significant wellspring of tort litigation in India and elsewhere.Arthur Underhill, in his works, characterizes negligence as an "inability to maintain the degree of care that somebody of common judiciousness would have applied under the comparative arrangement of conditions"[i]. In its subjective sense, negligence is the nonattendance of objective, and in its objective sense, its accomplice degree act in a challenge of commitment to require care towards someone. Even though the existence of a duty is decided based on existing precedents, it is now well accepted that new duty situations can be recognized due to the continuing influence of social, political, and economic considerations.

In general, Indian tort law, and negligence jurisprudence in particular, is usually conceptualized in terms of truth, equality, and good conscience is acknowledged and enforced by the courts in India under English common law. The Honorable Supreme Court in Rajkot Municipal Corp. V. Manjulben Jayantilal Nakum[ii] claimed that it could be deduced that customary law, as defined by the courts in England, had been explicitly accepted by the Indian judiciary and had precisely followed the common law principles of tort. The scope of the suitability and applicability of these principles of tort law to Indian circumstances must be taken into account. Therefore, our regulations must be considered and established following English liability jurisprudence.In the case mentioned above, Justice Ramaswamy noted that the laws laid down by the House of Lords should guide the tortious liability law and be upheld. Therefore, before one may go any further, the common law relating to negligence must be examined as set down by the House of Lords over the years.[iii]


1) Whether the defendant was negligent in the care and maintenance of the Clock Tower and was accountable to abide by the consequences for the deaths of the individuals arising from the collapse thereof?

2) Whether the petitioner, being the proprietor of the clock tower on the highway, is destined to ensure the clock tower is in its adequate state of disrepair in order not to cause damage to any fragment of the society while usingthe highway?

3) Whether the pleader is responsible for a latent or a patent defect and if, in either case, the degree of destruction demands separate consideration?

4) Whether the present suit attracts the legal principle Res Ipsa Loquitor and if the constitutional dimension of Nonfeasance appropriate?


The current research is case-specific, and hence the literature review enunciates that no direct sources exist on the present case 'Municipal Corporation of Delhi V. Subhagwanti & Ors'. The researcher has performed a background check on what laws are relevant to such matters and begins right from the initial proceedings in the trial court and subsequently to High Court. The present case complies with the tort of negligence. The researcher refers to the Law of Torts[iv], a comprehensive book written by Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, to understand the same better. A detailed overview of the tort of negligence concerning English and Indian cases is also included in the publication.

The journals, reports and research articles referred by the researcher are not conclusive intrinsically, but the researcher had to analyze the data concerning other relevant factors to form a conclusion. The Duty Problem in Negligence[v], Responsibility and the Negligence, Standard[vi], Nonfeasance and the Duty to Assist[vii] are the journal and Comparative Negligence[viii], Negligence: Subjective or Objective[ix], were thearticles referred by the researcher and drew the nexus between negligence, tortious liability, and non-feasance. In the present scenario, the word 'negligence' plays a pivotal role. And even in the journal article mentioned earlier in this thread, the same was discussed.

Province of the Law of Tort, authored by Sir Percy Winfield, deals with the tort of negligence and adds value to the current case analysis.The book offers a comprehensive overview of the various definitions of negligence provided by jurists. It would also play a role in determining the obscure references made in the instant case verdict.

Numerous cases that apply to tort of negligence exist. Nonetheless, the researcher intends to draw parallels to those with immense developments in interpreting the specific tort. The doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitor has first applied in Byrne v. Boadle,[x] an English tort law case, was held by the appellate Court the fact of the accident a barrel of flour tumbled from a second-story space and hit the offended party on his head itself gave adequate fortuitous proof to set up the breach of a duty of care. TheSupreme Court in Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Smt.Sushila Devi & Ors.[xi] Reiterated, "If damage is done owing to the collapse of the projection on the highway or by some other mischief traceable to it, the occupier of the premises on which it stood is liable if he knew of the defect or ought, on an investigation, to have known of it. At any rate, this is the rule concerning a thing that is naturally on the premises, for example, a tree."[xii]


The details of the matter compactly are three appeals arise out of 3 lawsuits for harms reported by the respondents as beneficiaries of three persons, especially Sant Gopi Chand, Shri Ram Parkash, and Shri Mati Panni Devi, who kicked the bucket due to the massive break-down of the Chandni Chowk, Delhi Clock Tower having a place with the litigant Corporation, once the Municipal Committee of Delhi. The Cambridge lexicon defines negligence as a "failure to administer enough care or attention to somebody or one thing you are accountable for". The judicature dominated it was the responsibility of the Municipal Committee to draw the right course of structures not to exhibit a wellspring of hazard to people utilizing the expressway considering it to be a matter of legal right, and agreed declarations of Rs.15,000, Rs.25,000 and 20,000 individually to the offended parties in each of the three cases.

Distressed by the Council's proclamation, the Municipal Committee documented petitions for the three suits in and out of the High Court. By a conventional decision, the High Court dismissed all the advances. The decision was retained for Rs. 25,000 out of the one in all of the other suits, the amount of Rs.20,000 was diminished to Rs.9,000, and the additional measure of Rs.15,000 was granted to Munshi Lal et al. was reduced to Rs.7,200.

The State Supreme court directed Res Ipsa Loquitur's guidelines and projected that they would apply to the present situation. The Court took into consideration the responsibility of the Municipal Committee to carry out a continuous evaluation of the aggregate to determine if the included crumbling occurred within the structure and if any preventive measures were mandated to reinforce the system.

In the allure to the current Court, it had been fought in the interest of the litigant that the Court wasn't right in applying the way of thinking of res ipsa loquitur to the current case and that the fall of the clock tower was because of an unavoidable loss that couldn't have been forestalled by the activity of due consideration or alert; that since the deformities that light-discharging diode to the break-down was idle, the appealing party couldn't be held liable of carelessness, that regardless, the harms granted were extreme. It is a unique commitment to the proprietor of the commensurate designated area for security, including its buildings that he maintains apart from the course. The proprietor becomes liable to those who use the highway and deceived by the degradation on the off chance that these structures collapse into dilapidation to be of probable danger to the bystanders or become an aggravation. In such a case, it's no guard for the proprietor to demonstrate that he neither knew nor must be constrained to have known about the peril.

In other words, whether or not the accident is caused by either a patent or a dormant imperfection, the proprietor is criminally accountable. In determining the damages inside and out, the High Court implemented the appropriate norm, and these three advances, as well as the skilled Counsel, have not been able to bring up the High Court's decision within this aspect and was indeed deemed invalid in some way, shape or form


The "Law of Torts is based on the Common Law system", and even the statute is based on the notions of justice equal opportunities. Reasonableness is accepted and implemented by the courts in India. The High Court attempted to comprehend the idea of Negligence and apply the correct standard in evaluating the damages through the instance of Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Subhagwanti.[xiii]


The complaints are based on three punitive damages brought by the descendants of 3 individuals, notably Sant Gopi Chand, Shri Ram Parkash and Shrimati Panni Devi, whose lives got ruined due to the demolition of the Clock Tower opposite the Town Hall Chandni Chowk Main Bazaar, Delhi, which formerly belonged to the Delhi Municipal Committee of the Corporation's Appellant.

Proceedings:"Suit No. 552 of 1952 was filed by the heirs of Shri Ram Parkash, suit No. 930 of 1951 was filed by the heirs of Smt. Panni Devi and suit No. 20 of 1952 was filed by Kuldip Raj, whose father, Gopi Chand, was killed by the fall of the Clock Tower. All the suits were tried by the Court of Subordinate Judge, Ist Class, Delhi, who disposed of all the suits by a common judgment dated July 9, 1953. The Subordinate Judge granted a decree for a sum of Rs. Twenty-five thousand to Shrimati Subhagwanti and other heirs of Ram Parkash in suit No. 552 of 1952, a sum of Rs. Fifteen thousand to the heirs of Shrimati Panni Devi in suit No. 930 of 1951 and a sum of Rs. Twenty thousand to Kuldip Raj in suit No. 20 of 1952."

The Court of appeal held that it was the responsibility of the Municipal Committee to protect the structure of the dwellings, such that the individuals making use of the highway as a matter of right become the source of risk. The trial court dismissed the Municipal Committee's plea and stated it could not be held responsible in the event of latent defects, and also that the Municipal Committee, as the owner of the roadside buildings, was subject to liability since it did not take adequate effort to protect the structures secure.This is brought before the trial court against the Municipal Committee that, with the exception of the Municipal Engineer's superficial inspection of the Clock Tower from moment to time, zero examination was made with an intent view to check whether there were any residual flaws that made it vulnerable. With an end goal to build up the tort of negligence, it is necessary to demonstrate beyond doubt that:

  1. The litigant obliged the duty of care to theoffended party.

  2. The litigant breached (neglected) that obligation, either totally or partially.

  3. The complainantendured an injury because of this breach of obligation.

(1) Duty of Care: In a request to set up a demonstration of carelessness, the offended party must show that the respondent owed the offended party a legitimate obligation of care. A lawful obligation is not the same as a social, exemplary, or strict obligation.

On account of another case where the defendant party breached the duty of care is Donoghue versus Stevenson[xiv], the offended party made a move by filling activity for carelessness against the manufacturer, guaranteeing that the substance of the beverage had seriously harmed her. The respondent affirmed with all due respect that he had no obligation as she didn't buy the container. Yet, the Court held that the production owed responsibility to the offended party and its end clients. In addition, the Court enunciated that the industrialist failed to comply and caused harm and was in this way held liable for negligence.

In the present case, the preliminary Court rejected the plea filed by the Municipal Corporation. It was held liable as they owed a duty of care to the plaintiff but breached it by not ensuring the buildings were safe.

(2) Breach of duty: After having set up that the prosecutor owes the offended party a commitment of care, it should then be shown beyond doubt that the responsibility was infiltrated. To see whether due care was or was not observed, we must first examine what the norm of care needed in that situation was:

  • The seriousness of the injury caused compared to the importance of the act causing it.

  • Magnitude of Risk intricated in the set of circumstances.

Rajkot Municipal Corporation v. Manjulaben Jayantilal Nakum & Ors[xv]. is one such case where the statutory authority was liable to pay damages a sum of one lakh. Accordingly, the division bench upheld the decree of the trial court. Jayantilal (hereinafter referred to as the defendant) was subjected to physical injuries and later died in the hospital as a roadside tree fell on him all of a sudden. On appeal, the division bench made a critical note the appellant has the discretionary power to plant trees on either side of the road and an analogous responsibility to nurture trees that may not cause a threat to the passers-by. The plaintiff failed to show beyond doubt that the damage has been generated in the absence of negligence on their part.

In the study of the present case, it could be concluded that almost no inspection was ever carried out with a purpose to inherit if there are any other latent defects that made the clock tower hazardous for the general public through the Municipal Engineer's superficial examination from time to time. Therefore, as the care taken is less than the required norm, the Court noted a breach of duty.

(3) Damage as a result of Breach of Duty: For one to prevail in a lawful activity dependent on negligence, it must be demonstrated that the litigant was in charge of or answerable for whatever caused the occurrence, and the offended party ought to show certainly that they endured some harm given the break of obligation.

Rural transport service v. Bezlum Bibi[xvi] is a landmark judgment based on negligence. A compacted and overloaded passenger bus on its way to the destination was overtaking a cart, and the conductor allowed passengers to take a seat on the roof as well. The Municipal Committee, not satisfied with the trial court's judgment, lodged appeals in all three cases in the High Court.


On November 27, 1959, the High Court dismissed all the petitions by a unanimous agreement. The decree in suit No. 552 of 1952 for Rs. 25000 was retained; the amount in case No. 20 of 1952 for Rs. 20,000 was restricted to Rs. 9,000, and the amount awarded in lawsuit No. 930 of 1951 for Rs. 15,000 in Munshi Lal and others were reduced to Rs.7,200.

The State Supreme Court held the Res Ipsa Loquitur principle (explained in the later part) applies to the particular instance. The Honorable Court also ruled it was the responsibility of the Municipal Committee to carry out a regular intervals analysis to decide if the structure had been compromised and whether any precautions were required to reinforce the system. The High Court primarily relied upon the testimony of Shri B. S. Puri (Retired Chief Engineer, P.W.D., Government of India), who was requested to examine the Clock Tower by the Municipal Committee after the collapse and who had been established by them as their representative.

The Chief Engineer Puri and MrChakravarthy opined that "the building was 80 years old and the structural life of the top storey, is 40-45 years taking into consideration the mortar used, and on the other hand the life of a middle storey could last for another ten years"-and also added if a professional had specifically studied this building for the objective, he would have discovered that it was likely to collapse. The observer subsequently revealed that he found it had already degraded to such a degree that it was reduced to powder without any cementing properties. After the collapse, he surveyed the building and took the mortar into possession.

The High Court took into account Mr Puri's argument that "the collapse of the Clock Tower was due to the thrust of the arches on the top portion." Also,since the building had reached the usual age at which it could be anticipated that the mortar would deteriorate, it was the appellant's responsibility to conduct diligent and frequent inspections to assess if the deterioration had occurred and whether any measures were required to reinforce the building. It is not a remedy for the owner to prove in such a case that he did not know or should have known about the threat. In certain words, regardless of whether a patent or a latent fault causes the harm, the Court has made the owner legally liable.


In an English case, Wringe v. Cohen[xvii],the complainant was the owner of a lock-up shop in Sheffield, Proctor Place, and the defendant Cohen was the owner of the adjoining property. The defendant had given a tenant who had spent about two years occupying them his premises. "Owing to a storm, the gable end of the defendant's house seems to have fallen and smashed through the roof of the plaintiff's shop. There was evidence that the wall at the gable end of the defendant's house had become a nuisance, i.e., a threat to passers-by and adjoining owners, due to a lack of repair". The Appellate Court found that the accused was accountable for misconduct; however, whether the structures on a roadway is hazardous due to the lack of refurbishment and, thus, an inconvenience causes damage to the occupant of the collapse or the operator if he has instituted the responsibility of maintenance, the defendant is liable not whether he suspected the danger or should or should not have known it.

Atkinson, J. states: "By the common law, it is an indictable offence for an occupier of premises on a highway to permit them to get into a dangerous condition owing to non-repair". In an indictment, it was not and is not appropriate to observe aver information or means of knowledge in the case of Reg. v. Watson[xviii] and Reg. v. Bradford Navigation Co.[xix] Lord Blackburn (then Blackburn J.) laid it down "as a general principle of law that persons who manage their property to be a public nuisance are indictable".

From an English case, General Attorney v. Tod Heatley[xx], it was explicitly specified that there is an utter responsibility to avoid the nuisance of premises. "If I were sued for a nuisance, said Lindley L.J. concerning Rapier v. London Tramways Co[xxi]case, and the nuisance is proved, it is no defence on my part to say and to prove that I have taken all reasonable care to prevent it."

The Court of Appeals applied the ratio of that decision in a subsequent case in Mint v. Good[xxii] and inthe case of Walsh v. Holst and Co Ltd[xxiii]. as well. In the researcher's opinion, the same concept is also applicable under Indian law. "Applying the principle to the present case, it is clear that the appellant is guilty of negligence because Clock Tower maintained that it was not subjected to a careful and systematic inspection, which it was the duty of the appellant to conduct, because of the potential danger posed by it".


The general rule of negligence is that the plaintiff should prove that the litigator was negligent. The law has the audacity to think that someone is 'innocent until proven guilty". In some cases, however, this rule is also reversed. This is when the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor sets foot in. Res ipsa loquitor may be a doctrine within the Anglo-American law and stands for 'the thing speaks for itself". This doctrine comes into play once the act that caused the injury to the litigant- itself raises a robust presumption of negligence on the part of the litigator that's wherever the action couldn't have happened except for negligence of the defendant.[xxiv]

In such cases, the litigant must show that:

  • The incident happened;

  • It caused the injury; and

  • The litigator was in the conduct of or duty-bound for no matter caused the incident.

Once the litigant shows this, the doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitor comes into impact, and it's up to the litigator to indicate thatthey weren't negligent; that is, the burden of proof is reversed.

According to the researcher, the concept 'Res Ipsa Loquitur' is applicable during the analysis of the current case. The Clock Tower was found to be entirely under the sole control of the appellant or its servants. The Chief Engineer's review into account, the High Court judgement also held the same opinion. It may also be concluded that, in the appellant's case, there was no catastrophe or hurricane or some other unexpected natural phenomenon that could have triggered the collapse of the Clock Tower. In these cases, to create a prima facie argument against the appellant, the simple fact that the Clock Tower had fallen tells its tale by raising an assumption of negligence.


Houghland v. R.R. LOW (luxury of coaches) Ltd[xxv] is a case that explains the circumstances that fall under the purview of Res Ipsa Loquitor, and the facts of the case are as follows: The plaintiff's luggage was accumulated with the accused's bus-driver owner at the start of a ride. Due to the break-down of the bus and luggage being by the conductor from the boot of the bus to a nearby bus. Only at the end of the destination the suitcase could not be found.Damages were awarded to the plaintiff, and the tribunal further claimed it was necessary for the offender to show that even when the luggage was misplaced, he was not responsible, which comes within the context of Res Ipsa Loquiturur itself.


Nonfeasance is a legitimate entity that refers to the intentional inaction to execute or play out a demonstration or obligation essential by the right of eminent domain, office, or law whereby that disregard brings about mischief or harm to an individual or property.[xxvi]Altogether, for willful failure to be viewed as nonfeasance, it should meet three significant criteria. They are as mentioned:

  1. A person who didn't perform was the one who was adequately expected to act.;

  2. The intended action was not implemented by that person, and

  3. That individual, therefore, caused harm through their inaction.

As seen in the earlier case, the perpetrator can be found liable and subject to prosecution if the three abovementioned rules are satisfied. The Court held Municipal Committee(defendant) accountable for not holding out a periodical assessment to aggregate whether crumbling occurred inside the structure and if any precautionary measure was essential to reinforce the facility, which resulted in the damage of loss of three lives due to the break-down of the Clock tower in Chandni Chowk, Delhi. Such action, followed by an illegal act, indicates non-feasance, and one is held accountable for the very same.


The laws in place describe the jargon of negligence at length and the circumstances under its perspective. It could be deduced that, as defined by the courts in England, the Indian judiciary expressly followed tort concepts under common law. The Court took the right approach and ruled that the defendant was negligent in the management and treatment of the Clock Tower and was responsible for paying damages arising from its collapse for the victims' deaths. The Court also held that the appellant, who is the owner of the Clock Tower on the highway, was obligated to stabilize it in the correct state of repair so that no substantial damage could be caused towards any member of the general public who used the highway. Nevertheless, it is hoped that policies should be formulated and executed in a way that does not interfere with the rights of another clause of the regulatory provision, the Constitution of India.

Taking many precedents into its experience, the High Court elaborately and precisely elucidated the words' negligence' and 'non-feasance' to curb any further uncertainty in terms of such matters where an issue of the same sort applies. In the field of the judiciary, this nuanced judgement style is very dynamic and highly appreciable. The researcher believes that Ramaswami V., Subbarao K., the Hon'ble Justices deserve appreciation for their outstanding judgement that illustrates the terminology with a great deal of intricacy.As tort law relies on judicial precedents, decisions such as this are of considerable importance to the judiciary. All potential definitions of negligence in tortious liability were considered in the current judgment and consolidated everything into a specific verdict. This leads to the stable evolution of India's Law of Torts, and its progress is aimed mostly wrong path.


  • Rajkot Municipal Corporation v. Manjulaben Jayantilal Nakum & Ors.

  • Donoghue versus Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100 [1932] SC (HL) 31 [1932] AC 562

  • Wringe v. Cohen ((1940) 1 K.B. 229)

  • Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Smt.Sushila Devi & Ors.

  • Byrne versus Boadle 2 H. & C. 722, 159 Eng. Rep. 299 (Exch. 1863).

  • Rural transport service v. Bezlum Bibi AIR 1980 Cal 165, 84 CWN 616

  • Reg. v. Watson ((1703) 2 Ld. Raym. 856).

  • Houghland v. R.R. LOW (luxury of coaches) Ltd. [1962] 1 QB 694 (CA)

  • Mint versus Good [(1951) 1 K.B. 517)

  • Walsh v. Holst and Co Ltd. and from Ors. 1 W.L.R. 800) (1958)

  • Reg. v. Bradford Navigation Co. [(1865) 6 B. & S. 631, 651)]

  • Municipal Corporation of Delhi V. Subhagwanti & Ors

  • General Attorney v. Tod Heatley [(1897) 1 Ch. 560)].

ENDNOTES [i] ARTHUR UNDERHILL, A SUMMARY OF THE LAW OF TORTS, (10th ed. 1932). [ii] Municipal Corp. V. Manjulben Jayantilal Nakum 1992 ACJ 792, (1991) 1 GLR 650 [iii]Ashish Chugh, “Recent Developments in the Law Relating to Negligence by a Public Authority”(2002) 7 SCC (Jour) 25. [iv] RATANLAL & DHIRAJLAL, THE LAW OF TORTS (Lexis Nexis, 28th ed.,2019). [v]R.W.M. Dias., The Duty Problem in Negligence Volume 13, Issue 2, 198, Pg:198 – 214 (1955). [vi]Joseph Raz, Responsibility and the Negligence Standard, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 30, Issue 1,1, 1–18, 2010. [vii] Dick.L.Rev. Nonfeasance and the Duty to Assist: The American Seinfeld Syndrome, 104 Pg:104-225(1999-2000). [viii]Mich. L. Rev.n Comparative Negligence, Volume.51, Jstor, 195, [195-197] (1952-1953). [ix]Seavey.W,Negligence. Subjective or Objective?, 41Harvard Law Review, 1,1-28 (Nov-1927). [x]Byrne v. Boadle2 H. & C. 722, 159 Eng. Rep. 299 (Exch. 1863). [xi]Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Smt.Sushila Devi & Ors AIR 1999 SC 1929. [xii]J. A. JOLOWICZ, WINFIELD AND JOLOWICZ ON TORT (13th, 1989 ed., p.415). [xiii] Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Subhagwanti, 1966 AIR 1750, 1966 SCR (3) 649. [xiv]Matthew Chapman, ‘The Snail and the Ginger Beer: The Singular Case of Donoghue v Stevenson’ [1932] UKHL 100 [1932] SC (HL) 31 [1932] AC 562 [1932] All ER Rep 1. [xv] Supra Note 2. [xvi]Rural transport service v. Bezlum Bibi AIR 1980 Cal 165, 84 CWN 616. [xvii] Wringe v. Cohen [(1940) 1 K.B. 229] [xviii]Reg. v. Watson [(1703) 2 Ld. Raym. 856] [xix]Reg. v. Bradford Navigation Co. [(1865) 6 B. & S. 631, 651)] [xx] General Attorney v. Tod Heatley [(1897) 1 Ch. 560)] [xxi]Rapier v. London Tramways Co. 588, 599. [xxii] Mint v. Good [(1951) 1 K.B. 517]. [xxiii] Walsh v. Holst and Co. Ltd and from Ors. 1 W.L.R. 800 (1958). [xxiv] WINFIELD, WINFIELD ON TORTS, (Sweet & Maxwell, London, 16th Ed. 2002). [xxv]Houghland v. R.R. LOW (Luxury Coaches) Ltd [1962] 1 QB 694 (CA) [xxvi]Kionka, Edward J. 1999. Torts in a Nutshell. 3d ed. St. Paul, Minn.West Group


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