Posts tagged ‘New Delhi’

15/11/2016

The Economist explains: Why India scrapped its two biggest bank notes | The Economist

In a surprise televised address on the evening of November 8th, Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, delivered a bombshell: most of the money in Indians’ wallets would cease to be accepted in shops at midnight. The two most valuable notes, of 500 and 1000 rupees ($7.50 and $15), were to be “demonetised”, economist slang for taken out of circulation. Indians have until the end of the year to visit banks to either exchange their cash against newly printed notes or deposit it in their accounts. After that, their notes will become mere pieces of printed paper with no value at all.

Citizens and businesses face weeks or months of disruption as the new currency stock is deployed. So why bother?

The government justified the move in part due to concerns over a proliferation of counterfeit notes (not unusually, it pointed the finger at neighbouring Pakistan), which it claims is fuelling the drug trade and funding terrorism. But its main impact will be on “black money”, cash from undeclared sources which sits outside the financial system. Perhaps 20% of India’s economy is informal. Some of that is poor farmers, who are largely exempt from tax anyway. But the rich are perceived to be sitting on a vast illicit loot. Though a large part of that sits in bank accounts in predictable foreign jurisdictions, a chunk of it is held in high-value Indian notes. Purchases of gold or high-end real estate have long been made at least in part with bundles (or suitcases) of illicit cash. The impact of the move is that everyone will have to disclose all their cash or face losing it. Those with mere bundles of 500 rupee notes clearly aren’t the target: the government has said tax authorities won’t be told about deposits of less than 250,000. But those who have stashed large piles of notes are in a bind. A recent amnesty programme for “black money” has just passed meaning the tax man is unlikely to look upon undeclared cash piles with sympathy.

The question is not whether the scheme will work but whether the cost of implementing it is worth it. The notes being nixed represent 86% of all cash in circulation: everyone is impacted. Queues have snaked around banks for days as Indians have tried to convert their notes into new money. And the “black money” hoarders have ways to liquidate their loot, for example hiring lots of people to deposit their notes into their own accounts and then send it back, all for a fee. The benefits are hard to gauge for now. The government is keen to be seen to be cracking down on tax-dodgers on behalf of the “common man”. But if the poor fellow then has to spend his days (like your correspondent) scouring the streets for an ATM that works, he may end up wondering if he is a beneficiary of the scheme or its victim.

Source: The Economist explains: Why India scrapped its two biggest bank notes | The Economist

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12/10/2016

What’s a slum? In India, Dharavi’s thriving informal economy defies the label | Reuters

Malik Abdullah’s plastic recycling business in Dharavi, the sprawling slum in Mumbai that is among the largest in Asia, has survived fire, building collapses, and the criminal underworld for decades. Now, it is threatened by development.

For 35 years, Abdullah has carried on the business built by his father, pulverising used plastic cans and bottles into pellets, then selling them to factories to refashion.

Thousands of small businesses like his thrive in Dharavi, creating an informal economy with an annual turnover of $1 billion by some estimates.

Now, plans to replace the ramshackle workshops and decrepit homes with office blocks and high-rise apartments threaten the businesses that employ thousands of its 1 million residents.

“The city doesn’t care about the businesses here, which are our livelihood,” said Abdullah, 52, standing in an alley crammed with towering stacks of plastic containers.

“This is where we live, this is where we work. Where will we go if they only build flats and offices?” he said.

During the past two decades, there have been several attempts to develop Dharavi, which sprawls over 240 hectares (590 acres). However, residents have opposed many of them, saying they do not consider their interests.

Real estate in Mumbai, India‘s financial hub, is among the most expensive in the world. The contrast between rich and poor is stark, and about 60 percent of the city’s population of more than 18 million lives in slums.

Dharavi has always been a magnet for migrants from across India. Many have lived there for decades, their one-room tenements and low-rise homes dwarfed by the gleaming glass and chrome office towers and luxury hotels that dot the city.

Amid Dharavi’s narrow alleys, open drains and canopies of electric cables, migrants who came in search of better economic opportunities have created a community of schools, temples, mosques, restaurants, tailors and mobile phone shops.

Tens of thousands work as potters, leather tanners, weavers, soap makers, and in Dharavi’s massive recycling industry.

Most homes double up as work spaces, the whirr of sewing machines, the clang of metal and the pungent odour of spices mingling with the call for prayer and the putrid smell of trash.

“People think of slums as places of static despair as depicted in films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘,” said Sanjeev Sanyal, an economist and writer, referring to the Academy Award-winning movie that exposed the gritty underbelly of Dharavi.

“If one looks past the open drains and plastic sheets, one will see that slums are ecosystems buzzing with activity… Creating neat low-income housing estates will not work unless they allow for many of the messy economic and social activities that thrive in slums,” he said.

ROOF TOPS

Once a small fishing village, Dharavi was notorious as a den of crime in the 1970s and ’80s. Following a massive crackdown, violent crime is rare and Dharavi has featured in movies, art projects and a Harvard Business School case study.

Fed by two suburban railway lines and perilously close to the Mumbai airport, Dharavi has lured developers, too.

Recent plans by city officials envisaged private developers clearing the area and building high-rise flats in which each eligible family gets a free 225 sq ft (21 sq metres) unit. The developer in turn gets rights to build commercial space to rent.

Dozens of such housing blocks have been built over the years, falling into disrepair as facilities were not upgraded.

What these buildings also lack is room for work. The squat tenements are perfectly suited for businesses, with living and sleeping spaces sitting atop work spaces, workers spilling into the alleys, and material stacked outside and on roof tops.

In Kumbharwada, the potter’s colony, where migrants from neighbouring Gujarat state make earthen water pots and lamps, potters’ wheels can be seen through open doorways, while ready pots are stacked in the alleys awaiting pickup.

The colony is abuzz ahead of the Dussehra and Diwali festivals, when decorated pots and lamps are in demand.

With small televisions turned on low, women sit cross-legged on the floor in their homes, painting motifs in red, yellow and green, and gluing on sequins and shiny bits of mica.

Down another alley, a group of women chat and braid leather strips for belts and bags on the stoop of a home.

“We want new flats, but they are small,” said Sharada Tape, who earns about 100 rupees ($1.50) a day.

“There are no spaces like this where we can all sit and work. It will be difficult, but we need the money,” she said.

RESIDENTS WANT MORE SAY

City officials last month submitted a new 250 billion rupee ($3.7 billion) redevelopment plan to Maharashtra state for approval after previous plans failed to attract bidders.

The new plan, a public-private partnership, has ample commercial space for businesses, but only for the “formal, legitimate” ones, said Debashish Chakrabarty, head of the Dharavi Redevelopment Authority.

“All the licensed businesses will have space under the plan. It will be better, cleaner than what they have now,” he said.

It is this narrow definition of what’s legal and permissible that is the biggest challenge, not just to recognising Dharavi’s businesses, but also determining Dharavi’s fate, said Rahul Srivastava, a founder of the Institute of Urbanology in Mumbai.

“The biggest impediment to the improvement of many of these settlements is the misconception that they are illegitimate, because residents don’t own the land they occupy,” he said.

“Can settlements which are home to fifth-generation migrants be called ‘informal’? We need to transform our perception of these neighbourhoods,” he said.

Across the country, plans to build modern Smart Cities will force tens of thousands of people from their slum homes as planners spruce up central business districts and build metro train lines, activists say.

Campaigners say until authorities give Dharavi residents more power and recognise the vital role of their businesses, any redevelopment plan is destined to fail.

“If we don’t have these small enterprises, it wouldn’t be Dharavi,” said Jockin Arputham, president of the National Slum Dwellers’ Federation in Mumbai.

“This is a people-sponsored economic zone, and the redevelopment should be around the economic zone. It is a township, not a slum, and it should be treated as one,” he said.

Abdullah, the plastic recycler, is reconciled to his fate.

“We want development. We also want to keep our businesses,” he said.

“But we have to be prepared for any eventuality. We are not owners of the land, so we may have to shut down,” he said.

($1 = 66.5075 Indian rupees)

Source: What’s a slum? In India, Dharavi’s thriving informal economy defies the label | Reuters

23/09/2016

Guns and ghee | The Economist

TO MANY Indians, their country’s strategic position looks alarming. Its two biggest neighbours are China and Pakistan. It has fought wars with both, and border issues still fester. Both are nuclear-armed, and are allies with one another to boot. China, a rising superpower with five times India’s GDP, is quietly encroaching on India’s traditional sphere of influence, tying a “string of pearls” of alliances around the subcontinent. Relatively weak but safe behind its nuclear shield, Pakistan harbours Islamist guerrillas who have repeatedly struck Indian targets; regional security wonks have long feared that another such incident might spark a conflagration.

So when four heavily armed infiltrators attacked an Indian army base on September 18th, killing 18 soldiers before being shot dead themselves, jitters inevitably spread. The base nestles in mountains close to the “line of control”, as the border between the Indian and Pakistani-administered parts of the disputed territory of Kashmir is known. Indian officials reflexively blamed Pakistan; politicians and pundits vied in demanding a punchy response. “Every Pakistan post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire,” blustered a retired brigadier who now mans a think-tank in New Delhi, India’s capital.

Yet despite electoral promises to be tough on Pakistan, the Hindu-nationalist government of Narendra Modi has trodden as softly as its predecessors. On September 21st it summoned Pakistan’s envoy for a wrist-slap, citing evidence that the attackers had indeed slipped across the border, and noting that India has stopped 17 such incursions since the beginning of the year. Much to the chagrin of India’s armchair warriors, such polite reprimands are likely to be the limit of India’s response.

There are good reasons for this. India gains diplomatic stature by behaving more responsibly than Pakistan. It is keenly aware of the danger of nuclear escalation, and of the risks of brinkmanship to its economy. Indian intelligence agencies also understand that they face an unusual adversary in Pakistan: such is its political frailty that any Indian belligerence tends to strengthen exactly the elements in Pakistan’s power structure that are most inimical to India’s own interests.

But there is another, less obvious reason for reticence. India is not as strong militarily as the numbers might suggest. Puzzlingly, given how its international ambitions are growing along with its economy, and how alarming its strategic position looks, India has proved strangely unable to build serious military muscle.

India’s armed forces look good on paper. It fields the world’s second-biggest standing army, after China, with long fighting experience in a variety of terrains and situations (see chart).

It has topped the list of global arms importers since 2010, sucking in a formidable array of top-of-the-line weaponry, including Russian warplanes, Israeli missiles, American transport aircraft and French submarines. State-owned Indian firms churn out some impressive gear, too, including fighter jets, cruise missiles and the 40,000-tonne aircraft-carrier under construction in a shipyard in Kochi, in the south of the country.

Yet there are serious chinks in India’s armour. Much of its weaponry is, in fact, outdated or ill maintained. “Our air defence is in a shocking state,” says Ajai Shukla, a commentator on military affairs. “What’s in place is mostly 1970s vintage, and it may take ten years to install the fancy new gear.” On paper, India’s air force is the world’s fourth largest, with around 2,000 aircraft in service. But an internal report seen in 2014 by IHS Jane’s, a defence publication, revealed that only 60% were typically fit to fly. A report earlier this year by a government accounting agency estimated that the “serviceability” of the 45 MiG 29K jets that are the pride of the Indian navy’s air arm ranged between 16% and 38%. They were intended to fly from the carrier currently under construction, which was ordered more than 15 years ago and was meant to have been launched in 2010. According to the government’s auditors the ship, after some 1,150 modifications, now looks unlikely to sail before 2023.

Such delays are far from unusual. India’s army, for instance, has been seeking a new standard assault rifle since 1982; torn between demands for local production and the temptation of fancy imports, and between doctrines calling for heavier firepower or more versatility, it has flip-flopped ever since. India’s air force has spent 16 years perusing fighter aircraft to replace ageing Soviet-era models. By demanding over-ambitious specifications, bargain prices, hard-to-meet local-content quotas and so on, it has left foreign manufacturers “banging heads against the wall”, in the words of one Indian military analyst. Four years ago France appeared to have clinched a deal to sell 126 of its Rafale fighters. The order has since been whittled to 36, but is at least about to be finalised.

India’s military is also scandal-prone. Corruption has been a problem in the past, and observers rightly wonder how guerrillas manage to penetrate heavily guarded bases repeatedly. Lately the Indian public has been treated to legal battles between generals over promotions, loud disputes over pay and orders for officers to lose weight. In July a military transport plane vanished into the Bay of Bengal with 29 people aboard; no trace of it has been found. In August an Australian newspaper leaked extensive technical details of India’s new French submarines.

The deeper problem with India’s military is structural. The three services are each reasonably competent, say security experts; the trouble is that they function as separate fiefdoms. “No service talks to the others, and the civilians in the Ministry of Defence don’t talk to them,” says Mr Shukla. Bizarrely, there are no military men inside the ministry at all. Like India’s other ministries, defence is run by rotating civil servants and political appointees more focused on ballot boxes than ballistics. “They seem to think a general practitioner can perform surgery,” says Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who has worked as a consultant for the ministry. Despite their growing brawn, India’s armed forces still lack a brain.

Source: Guns and ghee | The Economist

23/09/2016

India signs deal for 36 French fighter jets to counter China, Pakistan squadrons | Reuters

India signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France on Friday for around $8.7 billion, the country’s first major acquisition of combat planes in two decades and a boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s plan to rebuild an ageing fleet.

The air force is down to 33 squadrons, against its requirement of 45 to face both China, with which it has a festering border dispute, and nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the agreement with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, in New Delhi, ending almost 18 months of wrangling over terms between New Delhi and manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

India’s defence ministry said it would confirm the exact price later on Friday, but a ministry official said it was 7.8 billion euros ($8.7 billion).

Air force officials have warned for years about a major capability gap opening up with China and Pakistan without new state-of-the-art planes, as India’s outdated and largely Russian-made fleet retires and production of a locally made plane was delayed.

India had originally awarded Dassault with an order for 126 Rafales in 2012 after the twin-engine fourth-generation fighter beat rivals in a decade-long selection process, but subsequent talks collapsed.

Modi, who has vowed to modernise India’s armed forces with a $150 billion spending spree, personally intervened in April 2015 to agree on the smaller order of 36 and give the air force a near-term boost as he weighed options for a more fundamental overhaul.

The first ready-to-fly Rafales are expected to arrive by 2019 and India is set to have all 36 within six years.

Dassault Aviation said in a statement it welcomed the contract signing.

($1 = 0.8920 euros)

Source: India signs deal for 36 French fighter jets to counter China, Pakistan squadrons | Reuters

02/09/2016

Jobs elusive as India clings to fastest-growing economy tag | Reuters

It’s been two years since India emerged as the world’s fastest-growing major economy, but the rapid expansion has done little to improve the lot of Ashok Kumar.

Parked up and sitting on the kerb, the 25-year-old truck driver is going nowhere fast. He is the sole breadwinner for the 13 people in his extended family and his monthly salary is stuck at $150.

With new, better-paid jobs hard to come by, Kumar lacks options. He fears becoming unemployed like his elder brother, who recently returned to their village in Uttar Pradesh after months of searching in vain for work.

Data out on Wednesday showed India’s economic growth slowed to 7.1 percent in the quarter to June, a 15-month low. That is faster than other major economies, but not fast enough to create enough new jobs to absorb all the one million people who join the workforce every month.

A government survey found that job creation fell by more than two-thirds in 2015. Analysts at HDFC Bank estimate that for every percentage point the economy grows, employment now adds just 0.15 of a percentage point – down from 0.39 in 2000.

It’s a major challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has promised to create 250 million jobs over the next decade.

“For one job, there are at least 20 candidates,” said Kumar. “If you want the job, you can’t afford to bargain.”

Nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are under 35 years old. This rising demographic “bulge” will create the largest working-age population in the world. At the same time China, which has long curbed family size, will age as a society.

Whether this so-called demographic dividend will translate into the kind of economic gains seen in Japan and Korea, or lead to upheavals, depends on India’s ability to generate jobs.

Yet, despite average annual growth of 6.5 percent between 1991 and 2013, India added less than half the jobs needed to absorb new job seekers.

MORE WORKERS, FEWER JOBS

Under Modi, India has opened up further to foreign investment, hoping to generate more manufacturing jobs. A loan scheme for small businesses has been set up and there are plans for a $1.5 billion fund for startups.

Modi has also launched a programme to train over 4 million people in different skills in six years.Pronab Sen, country director for the International Growth Centre, a British-backed think tank, said such measures were “laudable”, but they aimed at boosting supply when more demand was needed.

“India has become a demand-starved economy,” Sen said. “If there is no demand, there will be no incentive to produce more which, in turn, will mean no new jobs.”

The level of desperation for work is staggering. In August, nearly half a million people, including post-graduates, applied for 1,778 jobs as sweepers in the city of Kanpur.

This was not a one-off. Last year, in Uttar Pradesh, 2.3 million people sought 368 low-level government jobs that required a primary education and ability to ride a bicycle.

Competition for such jobs has become fiercer as the public sector’s share in formal employment is declining.

Two years of drought has caused distress in farming, while the construction business has suffered a prolonged downturn – making work scarcer in the two sectors that employ the bulk of India’s unskilled workforce.

Satellite cities around the capital, like Greater Noida were, until recently, bustling with construction activity.

Now, Greater Noida’s skyline is dotted with half-built, abandoned, high-rises. Cranes and diggers stand idle.

In Delhi and the surrounding National Capital Region, housing starts fell 41 percent year-on-year in the first half of the year, according to consultancy Knight Frank. Across India, starts were down 9 percent from a year earlier.

Bhuwan Mahato, a contractor who supplies workers to construction projects around Noida, says demand for labour is down by at least 25 percent.

“I wish I hadn’t joined this business,” said Mahato, a 30-year-old migrant from the state of Bihar. “But, truthfully, there are no other opportunities, either.”

Source: Jobs elusive as India clings to fastest-growing economy tag | Reuters

19/08/2016

Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s capital has banned killer kite string after three people died this week from injuries and accidents caused by string that has been fortified for kite fights.

The weeks around India’s Independence Day—Aug. 15—are peak kite flying and fighting season. Kids and adults fly kites high in the air and try to maneuver them so their lines cut those of other kites as part of a traditional and usually harmless competition.

To better their chances of surviving longer and cutting competitors, many people use extra strong string and nylon lines and even lines encrusted with ground glass. When those sharp lines fall across roads they are a hazard to two-wheeler riders who can’t see them. Hitting one of the lines at high speed can knock bikers off their vehicles and slit their throats.

While there are injuries and deaths caused by kite strings every year, this year was particularly tragic as two of the victims were under the age of five.

A three-year-old girl died, while traveling in a car Monday with her head sticking out of the sun roof. She sustained a neck injury and was taken to a hospital where she died, said Vijay Singh, deputy police commissioner for northwest Delhi.

In another incident the same day in west Delhi, a four-year-old boy died also while looking out of a sun roof and becoming entangled with a string hanging from a tree. He was taken to a hospital and died, Pushpendra Kumar, deputy police commissioner for west Delhi said.

Also Monday, a man traveling in west Delhi on a motorbike became entangled with a kite string and crashed his motorbike, sustaining head injuries. He was also declared dead at hospital, Mr. Kumar said.

Chandraker Bharti, Delhi’s secretary of environment and forests, on Tuesday banned the sale, production, storage and supply of kite flying thread “that is sharp or made sharp such as being laced with glass, metal or other sharp objects.”

Source: Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

16/08/2016

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech in 10 Quotes – India Real Time – WSJ

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday made the annual Independence Day speech at Delhi’s Red Fort.

With the end of his colorful turban blowing in the wind, he outlined his government’s achievements and took a swipe at Pakistan.

Here are 10 quotes from the 90-minute speech, based on the official translation from Mr. Modi’s office:

On India’s progress:   “India is not 70 years old but this journey is 70 years long.

”On governance:   “Now turning self governance to good governance is the resolve of 1.25 billion countrymen.”

On India’s problems:   “If India has thousands of problems, it also has 1.25 billion brains that have the ability to resolve them.

”On economic growth:   “As far as GDP growth rate is concerned, we have left behind even the big economies of the world.”

On the goods-and-services tax:   “The GST regime is to become a powerful tool to strengthen the economy.

”On toilets:   “More than 20 million toilets have been constructed in our villages. Over 70,000 villages have been free from open defecation.

”On stalled projects:   “Blocking projects, delaying them and wasting money amounts to criminal negligence.

”On inflation:   “I will not allow the poor man’s dish to become costlier.”

On Pakistan and the Kashmir region:   “The way the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir praised me, has enhanced the prestige of my 1.25 billion countrymen.”

On caste and minority divisions:    “Serve all people without discrimination. Do not disregard anyone for his age or caste, Respect all.”

Source: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech in 10 Quotes – India Real Time – WSJ

13/08/2016

How Alibaba is Tapping India – The Numbers – WSJ

As its business matures at home, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is looking to boost growth elsewhere in Asia — especially India, home to a nascent but fast-growing online shopping sector.

Here’s how — and why – it is targeting the world’s second-most-populous nation.

1.2 billion

The number of customers outside of China that Alibaba would like to reach, according to the company’s Chairman Jack Ma.

$127 billion

The projected value of India’s e-commerce market in 2025, up from $11.2 billion last year, according to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

$500 million

The amount of money New Delhi, India-based e-commerce startup Snapdeal.com raised in a fundraising round led by Alibaba last year.

More than $500 million

The amount Alibaba and its affiliate Ant Financial Services Group last year paid for 40% of One97 Communications, the parent company of Noida, India-based online-payment and marketplace startup Paytm.

2 or more

Prominent executives Alibaba has hired in recent months who have experience in India’s e-commerce sector.

Source: How Alibaba is Tapping India – The Numbers – WSJ

12/08/2016

Indian army bagpipe bands’ swaying march – help!

Dear reader: can anyone enlighten me?

The Indian Military Pipe band perform during the 2010 Commonwealth ...

I am a keen fan of military parades and march pasts.  I regularly watch on TV the annual Trooping of the Colour in London and sometimes the very long Independence Day parade at the Red Fort in Delhi.

Recently, I noticed that the Indian army bagpipe bands tend to sway as they march. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fkT6SdD9LQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgW0HnY9crA  Bands without bagpipes do not sway.

I tried to check via Google if the Pakistani army bagpipe bands did the same and couldn’t find any example.  So, my conclusion is that it was not a habit formed during the Raj but developed indigenously after Independence.

So the question: when and why did the Indian army bagpipe bands develop this swaying action?

08/08/2016

This Is Why It Is Difficult to Make in India – India Real Time – WSJ

PHOTO: Employees worked on the cabin of a Sikorsky S-92 at the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. facility at Adibatla in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, June 07, 2016.

Having signed a string of multibillion-dollar orders from foreign firms to make parts for helicopters, jet fighters and trains, India is struggling to find people with the skills to build them.

In a $3.3 billion push, it is racing to equip 15 million people by 2020 with the skills necessary to realize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim to bring more high-grade manufacturing to the country.

But the challenges are significant at a time when foreign suppliers including Boeing Co., Airbus Group SE and Alstom SA often can’t find the employees with the training and experience to help fulfill Mr. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ program.E

More than 80% of engineers in India are “unemployable”, Aspiring Minds, an Indian employability assessment firm, said in a January report after a study of about 150,000 engineering students in about 650 engineering colleges in the country.

A lack of specialized courses mean companies have to train their own people from scratch. At one training center outside Hyderabad in southern India, young workers in their early 20s toil with high-precision hand tools as they are taught for the first time how to fix rivets on aircraft-grade aluminum sheets as part of a year-long training program.

Source: This Is Why It Is Difficult to Make in India – India Real Time – WSJ

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