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In town for Republic-Day, artists in middle of Red Fort chaos, taken to safety

Said an Archaeological Survey of India official, "Usually the monument shuts down every year by January 21. But this year, as a precautionary measure, we closed it two days earlier because of the bird flu."

Farmers remove police barricades set up near the Red Fort during the 'Kisan Gantantra Parade' amid the 72nd Republic Day celebrations, in New Delhi. (PTI)

As thousands of protesters descended on the monument, around 300 artists associated with the Republic Day parade tableaux were “stranded” in Red Fort, Delhi Police said on Tuesday. “We rescued all the artists, which included many children, and took them to GOs mess where they were provided snacks and taken care of,” DCP (North) Anto Alphonse said.

Usually, Red Fort shuts down for the public on January 21 every year — five days ahead of the Republic Day — to give adequate time to authorities to carry out sanitisation and security drill as the parade culminates at the monument. This time, owing to the pandemic and curtailment of the parade, the contingents weren’t marching up to the Red Fort. Also, Red Fort had been shut since January 19 after a sample taken from a dead crow tested positive for bird flu, officials said.

Said an Archaeological Survey of India official, “Usually the monument shuts down every year by January 21. But this year, as a precautionary measure, we closed it two days earlier because of the bird flu.”

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As protesters entered the 17th Century monument, many hit the turnstile gates with tractors, damaging entry points, officials said. ASI sources said a team was on the ground till late Tuesday evening to assess the extent of the damage to the monument and its premises.

An ASI staffer said: “It would not have mattered how many security personnel were deployed on the ground. Nothing can stop a tractor at high speed.”

Read |Farm leaders slam violence: Movement hit, peace our power

Union Culture and Tourism Minister Prahalad Singh Patel condemned the protesters barging into the monument: “The Red Fort is a symbol of the dignity of our democracy; the agitators should have stayed away from the Red Fort. I condemn the violation of its dignity. It is sad and unfortunate.”

By 6.30 pm, the premises had been completely vacated of any kind of outside elements except for government officials, security personnel and the ASI team. There was no clarity on whether the monument will open to the public as scheduled on Wednesday. The MHA is likely to assess the situation and advise ASI accordingly.

As per ASI, the monument will remain shut on Wednesday.

Outside, as some took selfies, Gurjeet Singh from Haryana said he had been protesting at Singhu for the past 20 days. He claimed that some of them had decided on Monday night itself that they would come to central Delhi because “no one would take note of the protests on the periphery”.

Deepa Brar, who had been at Tikri border for the past two months, said before an agreement was reached about designated protest routes, some protesters were in favour of coming to a prominent location. “Today, even on the sanctioned route, there were hindrances by police, so we decided to divert the route.”

Pointing to the Nishan Sahib flag earlier in the day, Gurcharan Singh, 32, said: “It is a feeling… Now we have shown that we are strong enough to carry on the struggle to any extent.” Buta Singh, a resident of Ferozepur, said that farmers too had “a right to celebrate Republic Day by fighting against laws being imposed on them”.

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