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Colombo Flood Protection



by N. V. Gooneratne

There were several articles on ‘Colombo flood protection’ in your newspaper and I would like to mention the following. The following fact should be placed before the public:

The Madiwela East diversion canal was constructed under the Greater Colombo Flood Control and Environment Improvement Project (GCFC&EIP) Phase 1. A little upstream of the Malabe Athurugiriya Road there was a deep excavation. For earth canals, the slope of the sides of the canal must be at least 1:1.5. i.e. for one foot vertically it should be 1.5 feet horizontally. If the earth is week, it should be 1:2 or 1: 2.5, depending on the earth. Also, in the case of deep excavations, one or two horizontal sections are required. The Consultant of the project requested sufficient land to be acquired. The officer in charge of the project gave, in writing, to construct the canal with the available land. Thus, this section was constructed with a slope of approximately 1:1. Hence, this section collapsed in a short time and the canal became ineffective. Either the required land should have been acquired or some other alternate method, such as a concrete structure, should have been constructed, in this section of the canal. I am not aware of the present condition.

In the early 1990s, a Senior Engineer decided to buy and install two 25 cusec pumps near the Elvitigala Mawatha Bridge and pump the water across the road as there was a flooding problem in the Torrington area and the pumps were bought. When the other Engineers explained that more than 50 cusecs would flow under gravity these pumps became redundant. At that time there was the problem of pollution in the canals and then the Engineer who ordered the pumps decided to install them at the North Lock at Nagalagam Street to pump water from the Kelani River to flush the canal system. For this, a gate was installed with the bottom of the gate at 6.0 feet above mean sea level when fully opened which was the designed high flood level. During the 1992 floods, the water level, at the North Lock, was about 7.0 feet above mean sea level. There were several complaints that the gate was obstructing the flow. Dr. Obeysekera, who was the Chairman, contacted a high officer in the Navy (I remember as Mr. Tissera) and instructed me to go and meet him to get the gate demolished. I went to the Navy Camp, in the Mutual area, and met the officer who sent two Navy Officers with me to the North Lock. When we went there, we observed that the water was flowing as the bottom level of the canal was 4.0 feet below mean sea level and the gate was fully opened up to 6.0 feet above sea level. However, there was an obstruction as the water level was 7.0 feet above mean sea level. As the gate was a wooden one, the two Navy Officers removed the bolts and nuts from the timber obstructing the flow, removed the timber and the water flowed without any obstruction after that. The claim that the gate was blasted is false.

There were a large number of structures in the canal system. During the 1992 floods, the salt water exclusion structure near the Havelock Road Bridge, in the Wellawatte Canal was a major obstruction. There were wide piers and less than 30% of the width of the canal was flowing when all the gates were open. The difference in water level, on either side of the structure, was about five feet. Colombo had not experienced such a heavy rainfall for a very long time and also a large extent of land had been developed increasing the discharge to the canal system. The Corporation was very fortunate that Dr. Obeysekera was the Chairman at that time. He immediately brought the Corporation machinery and staff and demolished the structure within two or three hours. This enabled the water level to be reduced considerably although it took some time for the water to discharge to the sea, as the volume of water, collected in the catchment area, was large. The Wellawatte Canal is the main outlet when it rains, at present, and it is important to maximise the discharge to the sea when it rains.

Colombo developed mainly due to the Port, and most parts of it are at a low level. Most of the rain water was earlier retained in the large marshes which have been developed mainly during the last 50 years and has resulted in high levels of water when it rains. The Parliament floor level is about 7.0 feet above mean sea level and some Committee Rooms are about a foot below that level. The Galle Road is around 30 feet above mean sea level. If you look at the water in the canal, near the Galle Road Bridge near Savoy Cinema you can see how deep it is. However, if you look at the water in the lake at Battaramulla Bridge you can observe that it is only a few feet below the bridge although there is very little difference in the water levels during dry periods. When Parliament was to be constructed, the Corporation requested, in writing, that the Parliament floor level be raised by at least two feet. At that time the Corporation was dredging the lake and the person in charge of the project rejected the request saying they only knew how to pump chocolate mud and did not know the effect of seeing the water when anyone is in the Committee Rooms. The result is that Parliament has been under water several times and a large sum of money is spent to protect the Parliament when the water level in the lake rises.

The Beira Lake is an artificial lake, constructed at 6.0 feet above mean sea level, to transport goods from the harbour to the warehouses that were constructed around the Beira Lake. Now goods are transported in containers. Hence, the Beira outlet, near the old Parliament can be used as an outlet when it rains, as the necessity to maintain the water level at 6.0 feet above mean sea level is not there. After some studies, the water level can be reduced, at least during the rainy periods, by constructing some gates at the outfall. Then by connecting the St. Sebastian Canal near, the Technical College, to the Canal, leading to the Beira Lake, the water level in the main canal system can be reduced.

When the Parliament was constructed it was decided that there should be a green belt on either side of the canals. Also the canal reservation, when the Irrigation Department handed over the canals to the Corporation, in 1979, was one chain (66 feet) in some sections and half a chain (33 feet) in some sections of the canal. However, the Corporation has reduced it to 6.0 meters (20 feet) and 3.0 meters (10 feet). Thus, there is hardly any green belt and insufficient room for maintenance.

In the report prepared for the GCFC&EIP Phase 1 it was proposed to have 980 acres of retention around the Colombo Canal System and in addition it was stated that there is 3.8 million cubic meters of retention around the Parliament Lake of which 95% should be kept for retention. The Corporation through the government acquired about 1,200 acres of which some areas were fairly high and some low areas had not been acquired. The acquisition should have been done according to some level such as those less than four feet above mean sea level.

People, whose land had been acquired, wanted them released and when they knew that more than the requirement had been acquired in an unreasonable manner the demands increased. The Corporation decided to release a maximum of 20 perches to an original owner and keep 980 acres, but people with influence obtained in acres whereas some did not get anything. Now, out of the 1,200 acres acquired there must be less than 600 acres. The land around the Parliament Lake had been acquired by the UDA and hence the Corporation did not get it acquired as the UDA, which implemented the Parliament Project, agreed to keep it. With the development that has been carried out around the Parliament Lake definitely the retention available is very much less than the requirement.

At present, the Wellawatte Canal is the main outlet and it is important to maximise the flow in the canal. The width of the canal under the Galle Road Bridge is very much less than the canal on either side of the bridge. When it rains you can see a difference in the water level on either side. The Consultants of the GCFC&EIP Phase 1 observed this but did not consider it as reconstructing the Galle Road Bridge was not allowed due to the traffic. However, after the Marine Drive Bridge Construction and the Duplication Road Bridge Construction this was possible. Similar to the Baseline Road Bridge construction, it could be done even half at a time. In 2005, after Colombo experienced some floods, the government agreed to fund it with local funds. As this bridge is under the RDA, a decision was taken at the meeting for the Corporation to prepare an estimate with the RDA. The Chairman at that time was a politician and a Board Member advised him not to get RDA involved and that the Corporation could construct the bridge on its own. Hence to date this has not been done. If anyone stands at the Galle Road Bridge and looks towards the sea, you can see that there is no reservation and how people have encroached on the canal bund. On the other side, when the Irrigation Department handed over the canals, between Galle Road and Duplication Road, the Wellawatte side was Canal reservation and there were only trees. Today, the entire section is occupied and some have even constructed buildings up to the canal with no reservation. Hence the widening of the canal by reconstructing the bridge will be difficult.

When the tunnel was constructed under the GCFC&EIP Phase 2 along 5th Lane, in Colpetty, there was a concrete structure along Duplication Road and the bottom of it was about 9.0 feet above mean sea level. The inside of the pipes used for the tunnel was 8.0 feet in diameter and with the thickness of the concrete was nearly 9.0 feet. As the tunnel had to be below this structure and satisfactory investigations had not been done before awarding the contract, at the sea outfall, the bottom of the pipe was at sea level. It would have been better if it was at least a foot higher, but could not be done. The concrete structure, along Duplication Road, is very likely to be the sewerage line from Colpetty to Wellawatte. If it is the sewerage line, it will cross Bullers Road also. I observed that a new tunnel is being constructed along Bullers Road. According to the plans displayed, it is 10.0 feet in diameter. In that case, either the outlet will be below sea level or the pipe will have to be raised and the full capacity cannot be utilised. This will be a waste of funds.

The Corporation handles only the main canals. The drains taking water to the canals are maintained by the CMC. Sometime ago a study was done and over 150 problem areas were identified and the CMC was to solve them. However, during recent rains it was observed that very little had been done. They also do not follow up when anyone creates obstructions and it is seen that more areas are flooded when it rains. In the recent past, the RDA constructed drains on either side of the Marine Drive. Some sections were rectangular drains and others were hume pipes. The drains were covered and paved for people to walk. Now the people have a nice walking path on either side of Marine Drive. However, the drains are blocked and never cleaned. When it rains, all the sea side roads, in Colpetty, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte, are flooded. For the recent rains, people living close to Marine Drive found the roads and their gardens flooded and a few even may have had water in their houses. In addition, all the garbage bins were floating and people had to clean everything. The CMC and RDA are aware of the problem as it has happened several times, but do not clean the Marine Drive drains. The main problem is that officers are attending meetings and do not attend to the work.

Getting foreign aid and implementing projects seem to be what everyone wants. When foreign aid is given the country that gives the funds, although it is a loan, always sends their people at least as Consultants and sometimes to implement the project. Very often these Consultants have little experience and learn implementing projects here at our expense. I have seen a large number of Consultants and I am sure our local companies can do a better job for a fraction of the cost. It is only for specialised fields that we require Consultants. For the GCFC&EIP Phase 2 tunnel, at Colpetty, the Corporation had a Consultant. The Construction period was about eight or nine months. He was stationed at Thailand and during the construction he came about five times and stayed about a week each time he came. He was the only person that deserved to be called a Consultant. In the GCFC&EIP Phase 3 there was a large canal excavated at Attidiya. When this was excavated there was no access to six lands. The Consultants proposed six bridges on piles. Then a Corporation Engineer suggested to construct a 20-foot road on the other side of the canal which was implemented instead of the six bridges, which resulted in a large saving. This indicates the experience of the Consultants that we get paying large sums of money in foreign currency obtained as loans. Very often these inexperienced Consultants prepare preliminary designs for a project within one year. Thus, what is implemented is not the best solution as they are inexperienced and do not consult the local people sufficiently. In most projects, the local staff do not do sufficient checking to get a better job done.

I can write more, but will conclude here mentioning that we must carry out the drainage improvements utilising the funds carefully and implement the best solutions. It is important that all projects are monitored to see that incorrect decisions that can be avoided are not taken. We must also use gravity drainage as much as possible and avoid pumping, which is expensive and we do not have proper maintenance experience and sufficient funds which is essential for pumping schemes. Besides, all responsible authorities should see that they do not allow any organisation or person to create additional problems. When the GCFC&EIP Phase 2 was implemented it was observed that in a road off Jawatte Road a house had been built over the drain. Hence it would not have been cleaned and there was no way to improve the drain. How this has been allowed defies comprehension. Hence, it was not possible to widen the drain. Fortunately, a civic-minded resident allowed to construct a drain through his garden and divert the water.



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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.


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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.


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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!


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