Afforestation Initiatives


India is the 5th most vulnerable nation in the world to the impacts of the changing climate. Our forests are our carbon sinks and our armour to protect us from the climate crisis looming on our heads. India’s land area under forest cover stands at 21% currently. The government’s declared target is 33%. The State of India’s Forest Report 2019 shows a grim scenario. Since 2011, over the last one decade, the area under ‘Commercial Plantations’ has increased by 5.7%, while the area under ‘Moderately Dense Forests’ has decreased by 3.8%. This means that we are losing our ‘biodiversity rich native forests’.

This blog tells the story of a group of citizens who are trying to preserve the native biodiversity of the Western Ghats, one of India’s largest natural carbon sinks.

The main highlights of the blog are as follows: 

  • Importance of the ecosystem of the Western Ghats for the Indian subcontinent.
  • How invasive species are destroying the native flora of Western Ghats?
  • Native planting efforts in the states of Karnataka and Kerala. 
  • How can forest friends living anywhere in the world contribute towards restoring degraded lands in the Western Ghats?


Western Ghats are a highly sensitive ecological zone supporting the livelihoods of more than 250 million people. This mountain range traversing through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu functions as the  water  tower  of  peninsular  India. Several rivers like Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra originate in the Western Ghats. The strategic location of the Ghats also influences the south west monsoons thereby making this mountain range play the critical role of climate regulator for the entire Indian subcontinent.

According to UNESCO, the Western Ghats are considered as one of earth’s 8 “hotspots” in terms of their global importance for biodiversity conservation. Out of the 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, nearly 352 (more than 50%) are endemic i.e. they are found nowhere else in the world. This region is home to more than 1500 endemic species of flowering plants and 500 species of endemic fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel proposed that the entire Western Ghats be considered as an ‘Ecologically Sensitive Area’ on account of the occurrence of such a high number of endemic and rare species.


A study in South India in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu showed that between 1920 and 1990 about 40% of the original vegetation cover of the Western Ghats was lost or converted to another form of land use. It is estimated that not more than about 7% of the area of Western Ghats is currently under primary vegetation cover, though a much larger area is under some form of forest and tree cover. Two main reasons threatening the native biodiversity of this region are as follows:

Loss of forests due to a faulty development model

Diversion of forests for agriculture, mining and industrial projects, road construction etc over the past few decades have resulted in the state of Kerala losing 9064 sq kms between 1973 and 2016 and Karnataka losing 200 sq km of forest land in the Western Ghats between 2001 and 2017. See this link for more details and what you can do to help the citizens’ campaign to save the Western Ghats. 

Loss of native biodiversity due to plantation of invasive species

The other culprit for loss of native flora in the Western Ghats is the plantation of alien species such as Eucalyptus, Wattle (Acacia), Pinus by the British which can be seen across the upper slopes of the Nilgiris and Pulney hills interspersed with Lantana Camara. Invasive species like Prosopis Juliflora and Parthenium Hysterophorus are seen on the lower hill slopes. 60% of the Western Ghats are covered by invasive species like Lantana. They create a mat-like structure leading to degradation of the land and destruction of the native biodiversity. As a result, herbivores like Gaur, Sambar and others are deprived of their food. This in turn negatively impacts the survival of carnivores such as tigers and panthers thereby affecting the entire ecosystem. 

Invasive species 1
Invasive flora species release a resin like substance which makes the soil acidic degrading the land and preventing the growth of native plants. 


This short film shows how an inspiring group of citizens by the name of Forest First Samithi are trying to conserve and revive the native flora of the Western Ghats.

Meera Rajesh, Founder Trustee, Forest First Samithi shares, “We are a non-profit working to rewild sacred groves, degraded forest lands, riparian buffer lands and private coffee estates with the help of local communities in Kodagu and Wayanad districts in the states of Karnataka and Kerala respectively. Our vision is to restore degraded lands by removal of the invasive species and preserve the biodiversity of Western Ghats by undertaking planting of native flora. We do this by engaging and empowering the rural communities in the process of sustainable ecological conservation.”  


Most of the native tree species planted by Forest First Samithi have nutritional and medicinal value which helps the tribal communities in their traditional health care system. Every project site that the group works on supports local livelihoods for planting. They provide a 3 year maintenance programme for the saplings which involves tribal wisdom for the aftercare.

Forest First Samithi, Forest First Land Restoration and Habitat Conservation

Read more about the work of Forest First Samithi on this link and their website:


Forest First Samithi would appreciate volunteer support for their activities on the ground as well as help in raising funds. Over the last 10 years, this citizens group has carried out the native planting work with their own personal finances and that of their network of friends. Occasional donations have sometimes come in from small companies and trusts. As a forest friend living anywhere on the planet, you can support this grassroots initiative to preserve one of the most precious biodiversity hotspots of the world by donating your own personal funds, organising crowdfunding campaigns in your circles of influence, getting your friends in the corporate sector to do CSR funding.

Please visit

Below are the ongoing native planting projects of Forest First Samithi: 

  • Forest Land Conservation of 40 acres in Wayanad and Kodagu districts (50 to 100 species depending on the landscape) – Year 2020 to 2023. 
  • Sacred Groves Restoration of 30 acres (minimum 100 species) – Year 2018 to 2023. 
  • Riparian Buffer 12 km in length (minimum 25 riverine species) – Year 2019 to 2025.

For more details, reach out to 



For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author – Neelam Ahluwalia at the email

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Afforestation Initiatives


Aravallis, the oldest mountain range in the world, running across 4 states in North India – Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is severely degraded. 31 Aravalli hills have disappeared in Rajasthan due to illegal mining. Real estate is eating up the Aravalli forests in Haryana which incidentally has the lowest forest cover in India (just 3.6%). Illegal felling of trees and encroachments across all states are destroying the Aravalli forests. 

As the oldest mountain range in the world is disappearing, the intensity of dust storms coming in from the Thar desert is increasing and the North Indian states are moving closer to desertification. The degradation of the Aravallis also threatens the water security of North India. The high levels of natural cracks and fissures in the Aravalli hills make this mountain range a superior zone for recharging ground water, which is extremely in the red zone at this point of time as extraction is 3 times more than what is put back into the ground. Native planting needs to be taken up on war footing across all the 4 Aravalli states to save North India’s water recharge zone, green lungs and shield against desertification.

This blog throws light on rewilding initiatives in different Aravalli landscapes. Topics covered are as follows:

  • Why is it critical to plant native?
  • Native planting initiatives in Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • Understanding basics of creating a native city forest.
  • How to create biodiversity rich spaces in residential and institutional areas?


This film presents the views of Vijay Dhasmana, an ecologist and rewilder who talks about why planting native species of the right ecology is critical in these water stressed times and how this native plantation helps in saving water and creating biodiversity rich habitats.


Often planting is not thought through properly. People with good intention just end up planting Neem and Peepal or other easily available trees on a site, irrespective of the soil and climate condition a particular plant needs to thrive. The foremost part of a rewilding exercise is to draft a vision. It is extremely important to know what we need to recreate. 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist shares, “Rewilding is like forest forensic work in which you research the forest composition that once existed on a given site. This can be done on the basis of observing the soil composition and the larger forest type currently existing in the region or what once existed which can be found in historical records. Once you know what kind of a forest or grassland or shrub land existed in the area that you want to plant in, the next step is to recreate that.”


A team led by Pradip Krishen, an ecologist proposed a plan to the Jaipur Development Authority to develop the degraded Kishanbagh sand-dunes near Jaipur, close to Nahargarh sanctuary in Rajasthan. The main aim of this rewilding exercise was to bring back the jungles of the Thar desert called ‘Roee’ which are essentially grasslands and shrublands like you see in the undisturbed sand dune areas in Jaisalmer and Badmer in Rajasthan. “Most of the native grasses and herbaceous plants that we planted in the Kishanbagh sand dunes are ephemeral i.e. they come out in the monsoons and by the end of winter they are gone, following nature’s cycle as it is meant to be in the arid desert landscape. It took 3 years for the rewilding that we carried out to become a self-sustaining ecological system,” shares Vijay Dhasmana who worked as part of the team recreating the native ecosystem of the Thar desert in Kishanbagh.

Kishanbagh sand dunes restoration
Planting done at Kishanbagh sand dunes to recreate native grasslands of the Thar Desert 


The film ‘Gurgaon’s Healing Forest – Aravali Biodiversity Park’ tells the story of a unique rewilding effort in the National Capital Region where citizens, corporates and local administration have created a natural Aravalli forest on 380+ acres of land that was once a mining site.

Understanding Basics of Creating a Forest Ecosystem 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist behind the creation of Gurgaon’s city forest shares, “My special task was to try and understand where each kind of plant species would be most ‘at home’ based on their evolution in the Aravalli hills over millions of years. Some plants are ‘generalists’ but most flora species, more so in arid or water stressed environments have their preferences and specialise in where they are best adapted to live and do well.  During my travels for native seed collection to different Aravalli states, I learnt that the Dhau (Anogeissus pendula) grew on steep rocky slopes that can withstand thin soils and rapid runoff, the Salai (Boswellia serrata) is partial to the shoulders of the Aravalli hills, the Kadam (Mitragyna parvifolia) grows in the valleys that can withstand both waterlogging and to a certain extent drought, the Babool (Acacia nilotica) likes to grow where the soil is deep and of good quality with water close to the surface. I also observed how different flora species support each other in the forest ecosystem growing in various tiers.

This learning from observing natural Aravalli forests like the Mangarbani near Gurgaon, Sariska in Rajasthan and others helped our team to draft the vision for creating the Aravali Biodiversity Park. The idea was to create diverse micro habitats in this city forest, including grasslands that would support varied forms of life, typical of the northern Aravallis.”

BDP - large expanse

Creating a Nursery of Native Plants

Often, forest plants are not found in normal nurseries. So sourcing native seeds and creating a nursery is an essential step in the rewilding journey. Once the nursery was set up in the Aravali Biodiversity Park, 35 flora species were germinated in the first year and then gradually more than 200 species were added. Operations of the nursery along with all the other costs of maintaining the native saplings planted have been funded by donations from Gurgaon city’s corporate sector.

Life Sustaining Inputs for the Saplings 

No chemical fertilizers have been used for the 1,20,000+ native saplings planted in the Aravali Biodiversity Park. Natural leaf compost made at the site has been the only nutrient along with water given to the saplings. Water for irrigation has been sourced from the sewage treatment plants of nearby hotels. A drip irrigation network ensures watering in the areas where the gardeners cannot reach easily.  Vijay Dhasmana shares, “It took us 8 years from 2011 to 2019 to complete the rewilding exercise on 380 acres of wasteland and implement our vision to create this native city forest. We monitored the plants regularly and only provided irrigation when there was water stress noticed. The saplings were not given water more than 8 times in a year and only up to a period of 3 years after which the plants become strong enough to bear the brunt of the climatic conditions on their own.”

Drip irrigation at BDP
Drip irrigation system created at the Aravali Biodiversity Park

As Planters Be Enablers, Not Mothers Force Feeding Her Children

Vijay Dhasmana, the rewilder expresses, “I am not a champion of feeding plants with excessive nutrition or manure or  irrigating them often to make the canopy grow tall. In the semi-arid landscape where the Aravali Biodiversity park is located, plants take time to develop a robust root system and addition of excessive nutrition and irrigation will hamper this natural process. Ecological wisdom is to let the plant become resilient on its own by letting it grow how it would in nature. If you over irrigate or give extra nutrition to the saplings, they will tend to grow faster. Fast growing tall plants in a semi arid or arid landscape will become more of a liability as they tend to break more easily when the winds are strong or during storms. I am of the strong view that as planters, we should just be enablers and not like mothers force feeding their children.”


To understand more about how to create a city forest, read the below resources.

Rewilding in a City; Making of the Aravali Biodiversity Park

Click to access Aravali-Bio-Diversity_-Making-of-a-City-Forest.pdf

If you are interested in creating a native forest and have more questions, you can reach out to


The film ‘The Upcycled Walkway’ captures the transformation of a neglected Bundh (traditional groundwater recharging structure) area filled with waste into a thriving corridor of native Aravalli flora in the heart of Gurgaon city in the National Capital Region of India. The local administration, forest department, corporate sector and citizens are all stakeholders in the creation, restoration and preservation of this biodiversity rich wilderness space.


Human connect with the wild is very important. Native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses of the right ecology should be planted in gardens in individual homes and open spaces in residential, office and institutional complexes to create more biodiversity rich areas in cities. This will not only help in expanding the green lungs and water recharge capacity of our urban areas but also create habitats for native birds, bees, butterflies and other life forms thereby increasing our nature connect. 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist advises, “If an institution or a housing complex in the cities of the National Capital Region and the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is large enough, I would recommend that they create small forest patches of the Aravallis with native trees, shrubs and grasses.

  • Main canopy Aravalli tree species can be that of Dhau, Salai, Amaltash, Dhak, Kullu, Ronjh, Kumath, Doodhi, Barna, Sargooro, Gurjan, Roheda, Gamhar, Harsingar, Krishan Kadam (depending on the local ecology). 
  • Understorey trees like Bistendu, Chamrod, Harsingar, Kuda that are of lesser height as compared to the main canopy trees can be planted as the 2nd tier.
  • Shrub species such as Goyakhair, Gangeti, Kair, Adusa, Marodphali and others can be planted as the 3rd tier. 
  • There are some gorgeous climbers that should be added such as Vallaris spp, Ichnocarpus spp, Telosma phallida, Watakaka volubilis and many others.”


Visit for more information on the citizen’s campaign to protect the Aravallis.

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Water Management


Every year, India gets monsoon rains but we capture less than 10% of it. This is one of the main reasons why more than 70% of our country’s groundwater aquifers have run dry as we are only extracting water from the ground but not putting anything back. This water crisis is impacting more than 60 crore people across India. By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. Water crisis in Cape Town in South Africa and Chennai in South India are warning signs of what lies ahead unless every Indian becomes water wise.

Environment problems are best sorted if they are tackled at source. We need to respect the rain that falls on our roof top and not let it flow into the gutter. This film shows how an independent house in any city, town or village in India can save lakhs of litres of water during the rainy season every year by a very simple and cost effective way of storing rain water in an underground tank and redirecting the overflow into a ground water recharge pit.

Disrespecting water by not using rain water which we get as a free gift from nature every year and simply allowing it to flow into the drain is criminal when India is facing it’s biggest water crisis. Doing both rain water harvesting (collecting and storing rainwater) and groundwater recharge in every rural and urban house in India will ensure that our country’s ground water levels go up and we do not see day zero conditions when our taps will run dry.

Steps for Rain Water Storage and Ground Water Recharge in an Independent House: 

  • Slope of the rooftop in your house should be towards the drain outlet on the roof so the rain water falling on the roof easily flows to this outlet.
  • There should be a steel wire mesh put on this outlet which provides the first level of filtration before this rain water goes into the pipe.
  • Rooftop surface must be kept relatively clean so the water does not collect too many impurities.
  • A filter should ideally be put to clean this rain water before storing it. You might have to break the wall a little to trace the pipe carrying the roof top rain water down.
  • Make an underground tank to store the rain water. After the storage tank gets full, the excess rain water can be re-routed to the ground water recharge pit in your house.
  • Recharge pit can be made by using sand, gravel, pebbles as filtration media.

“We installed the rainy filter in our house and got a 10,000 litre tank constructed to store the rainwater. With the kind of rains we get in Jaipur (in the desert state of Rajasthan), we are able to collect 1,00,000 plus litres of rain water every monsoon which we use for all our household chores during the rainy season (for our drinking water needs after filtering it in the kitchen, cooking, washing, mopping, gardening etc) instead of using municipal piped water or the ground water. This helps to reduce our water footprint in a big way and improve the ground water levels in our neighbourhood,” says Sunil Pachar. For more details, Mr. Pachar can be reached at

Water filter installed in Mr Pachar’s house to filter the rain water coming down from the roof 

A 10,000 litre underground storage tank built in Mr Pachar’s home to store filtered rain water

For more information on rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge, please visit the following links:


For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author Neelam Ahluwalia at this email id:

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Water Management


Greywater is water from the bathroom and kitchen sinks, bathing area and washing machines. While greywater may look ‘dirty’, it is a safe source of water (after natural purification) for watering your home garden. Letting it mix with the sewage water from your toilets and go into the drain is a criminal waste of water when India is in the midst of a huge water crisis


According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), more than 70% of water supplied per household per day in India is consumed in the kitchen, in the bathing area  and for washing clothes. Treating this grey water, reusing the purified grey water for watering your home garden and then channelising it into the ground will result in:

  • Huge saving of water and reduction in your water bill.
  • Keeping the grey water out of the sewer system, thereby not allowing it to pollute the local water bodies.
  • Improving the ground water table in your neighbourhood.

This film and blog explains how grey water from your home can be treated and purified naturally in a simple and cost effective way and be directed into the ground to recharge the ground water table where you live. With 70% of India’s water aquifers having dried up and India facing a huge water crisis, every urban and rural family having an independent house can contribute towards improving our nation’s rapidly depleting ground water levels by implementing grey water management in this natural way.


Re-route Grey Water from the House to the Garden Area 

The first step is to re-route the pipes from your bathroom (carrying the water from the washbasins and the bathing area), area where the clothes are washed and the kitchen sink in your house to your garden area such that they do not mix with the pipe carrying the sewage water from the toilet flushes. This would require some plumbing work but is easily doable in an individual house either at the stage where the house is being constructed or even later. Mrs Savargaonkar did some plumbing work in her house much after it was built in such a way that the 3 pipes carrying water from her rooftop garden, washing machine area and kitchen sink drain at 3 different places in the garden patch outside her house. 


Make Pits to Treat and Purify Grey Water in a Natural Way

Mrs Savargaonkar got 3 pits dug in her garden for treating the grey water coming out of the 3 pipes. Size of each pit is 1 metre by 1 metre by 1 metre. Each pit has been given a 4 to 6 inch slope at the bottom in the direction of the natural flow of water on the road next to the garden. At the bottom of each pit, gravel has been put for about 6 inches. Above that sand has been put for 12 inches. Whatever place was left at the top, dry leaves were put. Dry leaves act as natural carbon material which is a very important part of the grey water purification process.

“When I started doing the grey water filtering process, I realised that with water going into the pits, the dry leaves would get compacted. I simply put more dry leaves on the top of the pits. In addition to dry leaves, you can also use wood husk, dry tree branches, tree barks, crop husk, plant residues (any of these or in combination) as carbon material in the grey water purification pits,” says Poornima Savargaonkar. 

Put Naturally Water Purifying Plants around the Grey Water Pits

After 3 months, Mrs Savargaonkar planted naturally water purifying plants such as Kaina, Banana, Syngonium, Umbrella Palm and Spider Lily around the 3 grey water pits in her garden.


I do not use non-chemical based natural detergents for washing utensils and clothes in my home but use commercially available soaps and detergents. This soapy grey water is filtered through the layers of carbon rich dry leaves, sand and gravel in the pits before it reaches the ground. These water purifying plants do the job of  soaking the leftover chemicals in the grey water. This ensures that the water going down into the ground is pure, chemical free water. Banana plant has been specifically put next to the water outlet pipe from the kitchen which has only the non-soapy water that drains out after washing vegetables, grains and pulses. This nutrient rich water helps in getting good quality bananas for consumption by my family members,” says Mrs Savargaonkar. 


Use Natural Insecticide to keep Mosquitoes & Bugs Away from the Grey Water Pits

Twice a year and specifically once before or after the monsoon rains, Mrs Savargaonkar puts a handful of Rakh (powder obtained from burning of wood) or Choona (lime used in construction of houses) in the grey water pits as this acts as a very effective natural insecticide to keep mosquitoes and bugs away. 


I personally found no smell or saw any stagnation or any mosquitoes or bugs around Poornima Savargaonkar’s grey water pits and can personally vouch for how happy the plants in her garden looked! If every family who has an independent house in India (in every village, every town and every big city) implements grey water management like Mrs. Savargaonkar, we as citizens can make a huge difference in improving the depleting ground water levels of our country and avoiding day zero scenarios when our taps will run dry.


For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author Neelam Ahluwalia at this email id:

For any further clarifications on grey water treatment talked about in this blog, reach out to

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Water Management


There is nothing more essential to life on earth than water. From Cape Town in South Africa to Asia’s teeming mega cities, the world is in the midst of a huge water crisis. This film and blog talks about how putting water aerators in taps helps to reduce water use by almost 60 percent per tap. In these water stressed times, this simple and cost effective solution should be implemented in every home, institution and office complex across the globe.

Key Attributes of Water Aerators

Size: They mostly come in 3 sizes (16 mm, 20 mm, 24 mm).

Shape: They mostly come in round shape but some designer faucets are rectangular and square too.

Type: They help dispense water in 3 forms (mist, spray, foam).

Flow rate: They have varied flow rates ranging from 2 litres per minute to 30 litres per minute.

How Does One Know Which Type of Aerator to Buy?

Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant who supplies water aerators to individuals, residential communities, corporates and institutions says that aerators must be chosen on the basis of the purpose for which the tap is used. Aerators for wash basins, kitchen sinks, showers are all different. Size of the aerator can be measured by measuring the dimension of the outlet of the tap which your local plumber can help you with. The most common size in case of the bathroom wash basin and the kitchen sink is 24 mm.

People can easily save 20-25% of fresh water in their homes or places of work just by using aerators as per the below recommended specifications:

Wash basins: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 1-4 litres per minute (lpm) as hands can be comfortably washed at this speed.


Dish washing: Foam type aerator with flow rate of 5-10 litres per minute as washing utensils needs more water as compared to washing hands.


Bath showers: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 9-10 litres per minute.

Jet sprays: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 2-5 litres per minute.

Gardening: Spray type aerator with flow rate of 2-5 litres per minute.

Neoperl and Eco 365 are good quality aerator brands. You can order the aerators online keeping in mind the above specifications. Other brands can be sourced online and in local markets as well but quality could be an issue. I personally bought Neopearl water aerators (German based leading global brand) for all the taps in my home and they are working very efficiently. For those who use showers for bathing, please buy aerators for your showers as well. Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant can be reached at for help in sourcing the water aerators.

Installing Water Aerators – Effective Water Saving Solution at the Community and Institution Level

You can convince your office management and community resident welfare organisation (RWA) to install water aerators in all the bathroom and kitchen sinks of your office and all the homes in your condominium / township respectively. Raman Chawla, RWA President of Ireo Grand Arch in Gurgaon city says, “Ireo Grand Arch condominium, located off Golf Course Extension Road in Gurgaon is home to 700 families. We have been dependent on getting water from tankers every day as the municipality water lines only meet about 10-40 percent of our total water needs as supply is very erratic. At current consumption levels, residents pay a sum of INR 0.52 per sq ft for water use which works out to about INR 1200 per month for an average size 3 bedroom apartment. As part of the strategy that we devised to reduce our condominium’s water use, our RWA decided to use funds from our corpus to install water aerators in the kitchen and bathroom sinks of all the flats. This simple step of installing water aerators has helped to bring down overall water use per household by 20-25% in Ireo Grand Arch. Buying in bulk reduces the price of the aerators significantly. Our RWA paid INR 80-85 per water aerator for a leading German brand called NeoPearl that we purchased from Mr. Sunil Pachar, Sustainability Consultant who helps condominiums and institutions in doing a water audit and then helps them devise a strategy to reduce their water footprint, build ground water recharge structures etc.”


For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author Neelam Ahluwalia at this email id:

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