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Integrated Land and Water Use

The efficient use and management of land and water, along with their conservation, are extremely important for the sustainable growth of any economy. This paper addresses the issue of overexploitation of these natural resources in the Indian Punjab in the quest for higher productivity and income, in total disregard to their sustainability. The paper also spells out the policy agenda, aimed at an integrated system for the use of land and water to ensure the sustainable development of the agricultural sector.

Integrated Land and Water Use

A Case Study of Punjab

The efficient use and management of land and water, along with their conservation, are extremely important for the sustainable growth of any economy. This paper addresses the issue of overexploitation of these natural resources in the Indian Punjab in the quest for higher productivity and income, in total disregard to their sustainability. The paper also spells out the policy agenda, aimed at an integrated system for the use of land and water to ensure the sustainable development of the agricultural sector.


I Introduction

and and water are the natural partners in the process of agricultural development and their coordinated use is essential for long-term optimisation of economic as well as social welfare function. Deliberately planned or policy-induced divergence from integrated land and water use management may bring short-term rewards, but normally squeezes the long-term sustainability of growth as well as resources. The Indian Punjab, known as the “heartland of green revolution”, is a classic example of this.

Punjab has lost a major part of its groundwater resources due to exploitation over and above the recharge capacity. The demand for water to meet the present level of production exceeds supply. The excess demand is met through overexploitation of groundwater, due to which the water table is going down. The situation in the sweet water rice belt in the central Punjab is more precarious because the water table has crossed the critical depth level of 10 metres [Hira et al 2004]. Similar is the case for land use due to intensive production system followed in the state. Organic carbon level in the soils has come down from 0.5 per cent in 1960s to 0.2 per cent at present [Venkatasubramanian 2002]. The major nutrient and micronutrient deficiencies are growing over time and space. The nutrient and micronutrient removed by the crops over time exceeded their application. So both land and water resources are under great stress from the point of view of sustainability. The production pattern followed was commensurate neither with soil capabilities nor with water availability. The production, inputs use, pricing, marketing and other policies never focused upon the integrated sustainable land and water use management.

This paper attempts to review the policies responsible for this situation and suggests measures/policies for promoting sustainable land and water use. The paper has been divided into five sections, including this introductory section. The second section provides the profile of water demand and supply situation in the state. The third section deals with the temporal status of soil fertility. The fourth section reviews the policies responsible for soil degradation and water depletion. In the fifth section, an attempt has been made to put forward policies and other remedial measures to correct this situation.

II Water Demand and Availability Scenario

The total surface water availability at different head works is about 1.80 million-hectare metre (m ha m) per annum [GoP 2005]. Out of this, 0.35 m ha m is lost during conveyance and only 1.45 m ha m is available at the outlet that irrigates about 1.0 million hectares of land. The remaining 3.24 million hectare of land is irrigated with the use of groundwater. The total sustainable availability of groundwater is 1.68 m ha m per annum. Therefore, the total water availability including surface as well as groundwater is 3.13 m ha m per annum. The current crop production pattern dominated by wheat-rice crop rotation requires 4.37 m ha m of crop irrigation water per annum [GoP 2002]. So there is a gap of 1.24 m ha m between demand and supply which is met through overutilisation of groundwater resources. The overexploitation of groundwater in the last three decades has played havoc with its resources of the state. There are about 10 lakh electric and diesel pump sets in the state for pumping out groundwater [GoP 2005]. The study conducted by the directorate of water resources, department of irrigation in 1999 reported that out of 138 development blocks of the state, 84 blocks were dark, 16 grey and 38 white blocks on account of groundwater availability and pumping.1 The development blocks of entire central Punjab fell in the dark block category [Hira et al op cit] except for few areas close to the rivers. Table 1 presents the over time changes in the depth of groundwater table in the central zone of Punjab. It is evident that 39 per cent of central Punjab was having the water table depth less than five metres in 1973 which decreased to zero per cent in the year 2004. The areas with water table depth in the range of 5 to 10 metres declined from 58 per cent to 10 per cent during this period. However, the proportion of area, where the water table was below the critical depth of 10 metres, increased from just 3 per cent in 1973 to 25 per cent in 1990 and further to 53 per cent in 2000. The recent situation is quite alarming, as just in four years, i e, from 2000 to 2004, the proportion of areas having water table depth more than 10 metres has jumped from 53 per cent to 90 per cent. Within the central Punjab, the situation in some districts is very critical

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006 and going to become precarious in the coming 20 years as shown in Table 2. The demand and availability of groundwater was projected on the basis of assumptions that the area under rice and wheat remain constant, rainfall is normal and there is no change in the water usage coefficients of the crops grown in the state. The predictions for the three high productivity districts show that the groundwater table depth in these districts will cross 25 metres by 2013 and 30 metres by 2023. This will require very high capital investment for converting the centrifugal pumps to submersible pumps as centrifugal pumps will not be able to lift water from such deeper level. The energy use and cost of pumping out of groundwater will also increase substantially. The groundwater position in other areas of the state is also similar but severity is less. The minimal expected fall will be in the foothill zone (Table 3). In the south-western zone that was facing the problem of waterlogging in the decade of 1990s, the rate of decline in the groundwater level is expected to be less in the coming decade and likely to increase thereafter. It is therefore clear that though the groundwater resources will deplete all over Punjab, the situation is going to be very critical in the high productivity foodgrain zone of Punjab.

III Fertility Status of Soils

Intensive agriculture is considered to have seriously undermined the fertility levels of Punjab soils [Venkatasubramanian op cit]. The use of nutrients through application of chemical fertilisers is the highest in the state at 181 kg/ha of cropped area in 2003-04. The efficiency of fertiliser use presents an interesting picture. Wheat and rice are the most nutrient-exhaustive crops of the state removing 80 per cent of nitrogen (N), phosphorous

(P) and potassium (K), 80 per cent of sulphur (S) and 77 per cent of zinc (Zn) of the total removal of nutrients per year [Aulakh and Bahl 2001]. Based on nutrient requirements for each crop based on their productivity levels, it was estimated that the addition of N through chemical fertilisers was higher than removal since 1980-81 and this positive difference between addition and removal has been increasing over years resulting into positive N balance. In many areas of the state, the application of nitrogen is higher than the recommended doses, especially for wheat and rice crops. The status of N nutrient in Punjab soils thus improved in the 1990s. The proportion of samples low in available N decreased from 78 per cent of total samples tested during 1981-90 to 66 per cent during 1991-2002 (Table 4). The consumption of P increased progressively till 1990-91, building a positive balance, but the decontrol of P prices by the government of India in 1992 led to some rise in prices and decrease in its use. Since the absorption of P by the crops does not exceed 50 per cent of its application to the soil, the requirement of P is partially met from the soil sources. Consequently, the deficiency of P in Punjab soils has increased over time. In 1990s, 62 per cent of soil samples were found to be low in P compared with 48 per cent in 1980s. The use of K is negligible at 2 kg/ha in Punjab soils. The K balance in wheat and rice is (-)61 and (-)141 kg of potassium oxide K2O/ha. The mining of soil K has increased from 1,32,000 tonnes in 1960-61 to 6,83,000 tonnes in 1998-99 in the state [Aulakh and Bahl 2001]. The deficiency of K, however, neither appeared in Punjab soil nor impacted the production because Punjab soil is rich in K illitic clay minerals. Intensive agriculture also drains the micronutrients from soil. The micronutrient deficiencies especially of iron, sulphur, manganese, etc, are appearing in Punjab soil. In the absence of adequate levels of organic matter in the soil, which is decreasing day by day, the efficiency of fertiliser use is decreasing fast leading to a decline in the total factor productivity [Venkatasubramanian 2002].

IV Policies Responsible for Soil Degradation and Water Depletion

India faced the problem of chronic food shortage up to the end of 1960s, which forced the government to identify the high productivity regions to increase the production of foodgrain. Punjab state was identified as a potential foodgrain basket of India as it was endowed with fertile land and sufficient irrigation sources. The government intervention in the market led to remunerative price and the assured marketing of the produce through minimum support price (MSP) policy backed by public stocking of foodgrain. Sufficient funds were pumped in the agricultural research to increase the productivity of wheat and rice [Sidhu et al 2005]. The guaranteed price and procurement, commensurate infrastructure development and institutional support paid rich dividends. The area under wheat and rice increased at a very sharp rate (Table 5). The area under rice, a high water requiring crop, which was 4.79 per cent of the total cropped area

Table 1: Per Cent Area under Different Water Table Depthsin Central Zone of Punjab

Water Table Depth Per Cent Area (Metres) Years 1973 1990 2000 2002 2004

0-5 39 9 620 5-10 58 66 41 22 10 >10 3 25 53 76 90

Source: Aulakh 2004.

Table 2: Average Water Table Depth (m)in Some Districts of Central Punjab

District Measured Predicted 1993 2003 2013 2023

Patiala 11.7 18.4 25.2 32.0 Sangrur 13.8 20.6 27.5 34.3 Moga 9.4 18.6 27.8 37.0

Source: Aulakh 2004.

Table 3: Average Water Table Depth (m)in Different Zones of Punjab

District Measured Predicted 1993 2003 2013 2023

Foothill 17.6 18.5 19.4 20.3 Central 11.1 16.2 21.3 26.5 South-West 6.8 8.9 10.9 13.3

Source: Aulakh 2004.

Table 4: N,P, K Status of Punjab Soil, 1981 through 2002

(Samples Deficient in Per cent)

Nutrient Availability Low Medium High 1981-90 1991-02 1981-90 1991-02 1981-90 1991-02

Nitrogen and

oxidised carbon

N(OC) 78 66 22 32 0 P 48 62 29 23 23 15 K 8 9 45 51 46 40

Source: In personal communication with J S Brar, senior soil scientist and incharge of the Soil Testing Laboratory, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

in 1960-61 increased to 17.49 per cent in 1980-81 and further to 33.07 per cent in 2003-04. Similarly, the area under wheat increased from 29.58 per cent of the gross cropped area in 196061 to 41.58 per cent in 1980-81 and 43.57 per cent in 2003-04. The area under pulses, oilseeds and other crops went down as these crops were outcompeted by wheat and rice. The profitability from these two crops also increased consistently (Table 6). The net returns2 at constant prices for wheat increased from Rs 64/ha in 1975-76 to Rs 956/ha in 2000-01 at constant prices. The returns to land and management together increased from Rs 550 in 1975-76 to Rs 1,785 in 2000-01 at constant prices. Similarly, for rice crop, the net returns went up from Rs 467 in 1978-79 to Rs 820 in 2000-01 at constant prices. The total returns for land and management increased from Rs 914 in 1978-79 to Rs 1,624 in 2000-01 in real terms. The assured procurement of rice and wheat acted as a very strong catalyst to shift the area towards these crops. The government through the Food Corporation of India purchased whatever quantity was offered for sale and ensured the market clearance. The MSP (although is declared for 24 crops) is effective only for these two crops. In this way the farmers were induced to divert the land from other crops to wheat and rice. Later on the MSP instrument was started being used more as a political tool instead of economic instrument to garner votes and strengthen political constituencies. The increase in the MSP of paddy and wheat was substantial particularly in the years of parliamentary elections. In the decade of 1990s, when the parliamentary elections were held four times, the MSP of wheat and paddy increased at the rate of 10.43 per cent and 9.26 per cent respectively at nominal prices while in the decade of 1980s the annual growth was around 5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively (Table 7).

Rice is a water-intensive crop and requires 24 to 28 irrigations in its four-month production period. Such a high intensity of irrigation cannot be met with the canal water even if it is available. So the demand is met through pumping the groundwater with electricity operated tubewells. The government, through its distorted price policy, supplied electricity to the agricultural sector at a highly subsidised rate or even free of cost for some years. In the decade of 1990s the average annual electricity subsidy to the agricultural sector was Rs 10,470 million. Rice and wheat crops together consume 66 per cent of the total irrigation water [Hira et al 2004] used in the agricultural sector of the state. So these crops were the major beneficiaries of the electricity subsidy. Similar is the case of fertiliser subsidy. The rice and wheat crops consume 80 per cent of N and P. The total annual fertiliser subsidy to state agriculture was Rs 10,280 million in 2000-01. The subsidy regime helped in keeping their cost of production at low level, maintaining high profitability and edge over other competing crops.

The price support policy, assured marketing input subsidisation and high profitability of these crops brought out divergence between soil suitability and soil utilisation. Recent study conducted in the Ludhiana district [Sharma et al 2004] has shown that only 43 per cent of the soils are suitable for growing rice but actually 70 per cent of the net sown area of the district was put under rice in kharif season of 2002-03. The farmers are growing rice even in the coarse textured soils after levelling or clearing the sand dunes. Another study conducted in the Patiala district [Walia et al 2004] also shows similar pattern. While merely 45 per cent of the soil in the district is either highly or moderately suitable for rice, in actual 73 per cent of area was put under rice in 2002-03. The farmers preferred rice and wheat crops even on less suitable lands because the growth in their productivity was higher and variation in productivity lower resulting into higher profitability and low risk [Sidhu 2004].

The wheat and rice crops have outsubstituted the traditional crops that were a major source of soil enrichment as these crops fix nitrogen in the soil. The application of green manures by growing and burying the legumes in the soil enhances the level of organic carbon, availability of N, P and K and the micronutrients like Zn, copper (Cu), iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) as shown in Table 8. Even the incorporation of residues of the legumes enhances the organic carbon and availability of P and K in the soil. The experimental data showed that with the incorporation of pulse residue (mungbean), the level of organic carbon increased from

0.42 per cent to 0.46 per cent. The availability of P and K increased by 16 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively [Sidhu et al 2003].

V Reformulating Land and Water Use Policies

The review of the development process and the policies adopted clearly point out that production pattern in the state was allowed to be shaped by the regulated market forces without caring for the long-run sustainability of land and water resources. Rather the policies helped to move the production pattern in favour of rice-wheat rotation plundering land and water resources. Little effort was made to match the production pattern with soil capabilities and water availability regimes. The isolated efforts of integrated land and water management were confined to only research experiments and were not transferred to field. The expert and scientific opinion put through various forums failed to reorient the policies towards their sustainable use. The land and water-related problems first emerged in mid-1980s and it was envisaged at that time that if the production pattern were allowed to move as such its sustainability would face a question mark. The government of Punjab appointed an expert committee in the year 1986 to suggest policy measures to diversify agriculture in Punjab so that the cropping pattern may somewhat be matched with water availability and soil capabilities. The expert committee suggested a set of policy measures to the state and the federal government, to shift 20 per cent unsuitable area from under wheat and rice to less water- and nutrient- requiring crops such as oilseeds, pulses, cotton, farm forestry, etc [GoP 1986]. The country faced a drought later and the foodgrain reserves went down. So the report was never implemented and the agricultural production pattern proceeded as such rather tilted more towards rice and wheat.

Table 5: Shift in Cropping Pattern in Punjab, 1960-61 to 2003-04

(Per Cent Area)

Crop 1960-61 1970-71 1980-81 1990-91 1999-2000 2003-04

Rice 4.79 6.88 17.49 26.86 33.29 33.07 Maize 6.91 9.78 5.65 2.51 2.08 1.95 Cotton 9.46 6.99 9.59 9.34 6.07 5.72 Sugar cane 2.82 2.26 1.05 1.35 1.37 1.57 Wheat 29.58 40.48 41.58 43.63 43.18 43.57 Pulses 19.08 7.29 5.05 1.91 0.79 0.55 Oilseeds 3.91 5.19 3.52 1.38 1.26 1.08 Potato 0.19 0.29 0.59 0.31 0.97 0.83 Others 23.26 20.84 15.48 12.71 10.99 11.66 Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 Total cropped area

(000 hectares) 4732 5678 6763 7502 7847 7905

Source: Statistical Abstract of Punjab (various issues).

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

Keeping in view the severity of the situation of natural resources especially of the groundwater, the government of Punjab again appointed a committee on “Agricultural Production Pattern Adjustment Programme in Punjab for Productivity and Growth” in the year 2002. The committee suggested a shift of one million hectare from rice and wheat to other crops. However, the committee observed that since other crops were less remunerative as compared to wheat and rice, an income adjustment programme for the farmers through direct payment to compensate the crop shift income losses might be introduced to bring about shifts in the cropping pattern. The committee suggested that farmer should be paid Rs 5,000/ acre for shifting land from wheat and rice to other crops. It would cost the government Rs 1,280 crore to shift one million hectares of area from rice-wheat system. This report is still being debated at national level for advantages/disadvantages. Therefore, the diversification of agriculture as a policy measure is being suggested in the state to match the cropping pattern with soil and water capabilities and sustain the growth of agricultural sector on long-term basis.

The redesigning of the economic incentives is another policy instrument for land and water conservation in Punjab. Electricity pricing policy for agricultural sector is an important area in this direction. Electricity was supplied to agriculture at a very low rate and was made free in March 1997. With the change in the government the electricity tariffs were reimposed in June 2002 but political compulsions forced the government to reverse the decision and in September 2005, the electricity supplied to the agriculture was again made free of cost. Even when the tariffs were there, these were on monthly flat rate basis rather than on the actual quantities of electricity consumed. Therefore, the marginal cost principle became inoperative. The free or flat rate based supply has encouraged the farmers to grow water-loving crops and maximise pumping of groundwater leading to its overexploitation than the rechargeable capacity. The economic incentive in the form of free/subsidised flat rate electricity pricing for water pumping not only puts a stress on water by encouraging rice-wheat rotation, but also on soils because these crops are nutrient exhaustive. Therefore, it is desired that the electricity charges should be linked with the actual quantity of electricity use rather than on flat rate basis or freebies. It will induce the farmers to economise the use of electricity and consequently the groundwater by improving on farm water use efficiency.

It is a known fact that the effective minimum support price, assured marketing and the low yield risk were other important incentives for farmers to grow rice and wheat. The same set of policies can be tried for other crops by making MSP effective and marketing assured. The research programmes also need reorientation to increase and stabilise the yields of other crops by fine-tuning their production/protection technologies so that they can compete with rice and wheat crops.

Improving agronomic practices results in enormous saving of water. Transplanting at optimal time, increase in puddling intensity and intermittent submergence are being conceived as useful agronomic measures to contain water losses in the case of rice crop. In the kharif season of 2005, more than 30 per cent of farmers [Dhaliwal et al 2005] transplanted rice in the month of May or early June against the recommendation of June 10 to June 30 by Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. The early transplanted rice has much higher evaporation (799 mm) than the timely planted crop (561 mm). About half of water table fall can be arrested if the farmers start rice transplantation at the appropriate time [GoP 2002] and judiciously plan the irrigation schedule. Another study shows that high-intensity puddling of soil not only increases the rice yield but also reduces the unproductive water losses [Singh et al 1994]. The combination of high-puddling intensity with intermittent flooding results in higher water use efficiency. The adoption of recommended short duration varieties can also result in water saving. In 2005, about 40 per cent of rice area was under long duration variety (Pusa 44), which required more number of irrigations without any increase in productivity. So the marginal productivity of excess number of irrigations as well as of days of soil coverage by crop was almost zero. The on-farm water management practices including improved conveyance, distribution and application efficiencies, optimal plot size, precision levelling, etc, also bring higher water use efficiency. The toning up of the extension work and education of the farmers is, therefore, quite essential for creating awareness among the farmers towards adoption of water use efficiency measures.

The pragmatic policies, institutional mechanism, rational input pricing, etc, remain redundant in the absence of effective legal framework. Till date the groundwater rights are associated with the land rights. The legal owner of the land can pump out as much water as he desires beneath his owned land. Since the underground movement of groundwater does not obey any land

Table 6: Trend in Returns to Land and Managementfor Rice and Wheat Crops

(Constant Prices)

Years Net Income Returns to Land (Return to Management) and Management

Wheat 1975-76 64.0 550.2 1980-81 60.0 463.0 1985-86 441.2 994.9 1990-91 292.9 902.8 1996-97 715.1 1686.3 2000-01 955.8 1784.7 Rice 1978-79 467.0 914.2 1981-82 454.5 1025.7 1985-86 365.6 958.5 1991-92 460.3 1144.7 1995-96 297.9 1091.7 2000-01 819.8 1623.8

Source: Sidhu and Johl (2002).

Table 7: Trends in Minimum Support Pricesof Wheat and Paddy

Years Compound Growth Rates (Per Cent)

1980-81 to 1990-91 5.98 4.93 1990-91 to 2000-01 9.28 10.43 1999-00 to 2004-05 2.45 1.70

Source: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI, various issues.

Table 8 : Effect of Application of Organic Manures on Soil Chemical Properties

Characteristics Organic Manures Control Cowpea Sesbania Guar Moong

Org C (per cent) 0.38 0.45 0.46 0.45 0.43 Avail N (kg ha) 115 146 153 143 142 Avail P(kg/ha) 39.7 48.2 44.8 47.5 49.0 Avail K(kg/ha) 147 155 152 168 163 Zn (mg/kg) 1.00 1.95 1.86 1.96 1.94 Cu.. 0.41 0.57 0.51 0.60 0.51 Fe.. 9.29 11.58 11.79 11.82 11.99 Mn.. 14.87 19.85 19.61 20.05 19.34

Source: Aggarwal et al 1997.

Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

ownership boundaries, the poor farmers who cannot invest in deepening their wells time and again, get increasingly devoid of groundwater [Nagaraj et al 2003]. Secondly, the groundwater resources are overexploited without any consideration for their long-term sustainability and social cost in the absence of properly and legally defined water laws. Therefore, the groundwater must be declared as common property resource, tradable water rights should be allocated according to size of ownership of land and its use should be kept under strict regulation. So, it is high time to regulate the soil and water use in the state through policy and institutional mechanism. There is a need to establish a land and water use regulatory body as a watchdog institution. The recently constituted ‘Punjab State Farmers Commission’ can also be assigned this responsibility with statuary powers.

The soil resources of the state need to be mapped and soil may be grouped into different categories based on its physiochemical similarities and agro-climatic factors. It should be followed by the broad identification of the crops grown on the different groups of soil. The policy and institutional watch can keep the production pattern in line with soil capacities. The large-scale soil surveys were not possible in the past due to its prohibitive cost, but today, the traditional field surveys are being replaced with the information technology and remote-sensing techniques, which are quite cost effective. Similarly, the groundwater resources require regular mapping and strictly regulated utilisation. The Punjab State Remote Sensing Centre is already engaged in this work and can be entrusted with this responsibility with additional recourses and funding.

Efforts are also required to replenish the depleting soil health. It is amply clear that at the current comparative profitability of different crops, the legumes, by and large, cannot compete with wheat and rice. The cultivation of legumes in the state can be encouraged through deliberate tilt in favour of their prices and marketing. The national agricultural cooperative marketing federation of India (NAFED) is already engaged in their procurement at MSP, but it needs to be made more effective. The short duration legumes such as mungbean can also be successfully grown in between kharif and rabi seasons in combination with other than rice crop [Grover 2004]. It will help in raising income of the farmers as well as improving fertility of soil. These legumes can also be used as green manures during the vacant periods falling between the harvesting of a crop and the sowing of the successive crop. For example, wheat harvesting is completed by the mid of April and the optimal time for paddy transplantation starts in mid-June. So about two months are available for growing and applying the green manures. However, there is hardly any study on the economics of green manures that can be sighted to educate and convince the farmers to go for their application. Therefore, the studies on the economics of green manures fit well in the scope of future research on the sustainability of Punjab agriculture

The mapping of soil and water resources and broadly matching the production pattern with their endowments will help in assessing the irrigation water requirements for various sub-regions for fairly a long period of time. It will provide useful information to reallocate the surface water. The surface water utilisation in Punjab, through a scientifically designed canal network, was planned five decades back. The water allowance for different canals, their capacity factor and irrigation intensities were designed on the basis of canal water availability and the irrigation demands of the cropping pattern prevalent at that time. The distribution network is inflexible to a large extent. It is high time to inject the element of flexibility in the surface water distribution with varying canal allowances within a river system and interlinking of rivers in a river basin.




1 A block is categorised as dark when rate of exploitation of groundwater is 85 per cent of the rechargeable capacity, grey when exploitation rate is 65 to 85 per cent and as white when exploitation rate is less than 65 per cent.

2 Net returns were calculated after deducting operational costs and fixed costs from gross returns while returns to land and management were computed by excluding the imputed rental value of land from the costs.


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Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

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