No school children, a pared-down list of dignitaries, chairs instead of rugs for seating in several areas, and police in PPE — Independence Day morning at Red Fort this year will reflect the mood of a nation in the middle of a global pandemic.
In the afternoon, during the At Home function in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the focus will be on India’s “Corona Warriors”, with invitations likely to be extended to medical professionals and key figures in the health sector.
“At the Red Fort, instead of the 900-1,000 invitees every year, around 250 people will be present as the Prime Minister addresses the nation,” an official with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) told The Indian Express. The final list will be prepared by the Defence Ministry.
Apart from ministers, diplomats and other dignitaries, the attendees until last year included thousands of schoolchildren wearing dresses that reflect the Tricolour.
“This year, children will not take part due to the pandemic, except for NCC cadets. Social distancing will be maintained, staff will be in PPE kits, and there will be a number of sanitisation points,” said Monika Bhardwaj, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North).
The At Home will “definitely be held”, but the nature of the function has not been finalised, official sources said.
“The list of invitees, size of the gathering, venue hall, whether tea should be served… all these details will have to be finalised. A lot depends on the Covid situation by mid-August, and the nature of restrictions in place,” said sources.
They said that queries are being made about the names of medical professionals and healthcare experts to be included. The list usually includes ministers, political leaders, officials, judges, civilian awardees, freedom fighters, prominent citizens and media persons.
“It will be pruned in every section, and the size of the gathering could be between 60 and 90. Unlike on Republic Day, the function cannot be held in Mughal Gardens as the possibility of rain cannot be ruled out. If the staff are to serve tea, their number also needs to be decided,” sources said.
At the Red Fort, meanwhile, preparations have started with wooden logs stacked in a corner to construct special seating areas. “This time, chairs will be placed in designated areas to ensure social distancing. The fort will be shut to the public starting August 1. Earlier, it would remain open till August 7,” said an official involved in the arrangements.
An unusual challenge this time, officials said, is finding workers. “There are usually around 2,000 workers on site. But we have managed to get only half since many have gone back to their villages. We had to call some of them back and pay a higher amount in wages,” an official said.
Apart from the Delhi Police, several agencies are involved in preparations on the ground every year. They include: North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is responsible for sanitation; Delhi Public Works Department, which is in charge of roads leading to Red Fort; and, the Central Public Works Department.
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