Rains notwithstanding, PM will deliver his I-Day address

August 14th, 2008 - 9:10 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) With the weatherman forecasting heavy rain, officials have drawn up contingency plans for the Independence Day function at the Red Fort Friday morning but insist that the prime minister will deliver his customary address. “Come what may, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. A Special Protection Group (SPG) member will hold an umbrella over his head, but the prime minister will speak as scheduled,” said an official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

“There have been occasions in the past when Aug 15 has been hit by a light drizzle, but there has been no change in schedule.”

Elaborate arrangements have been made, officials said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and all guests would be covered under parasols, said a defence ministry official.

“If there is a heavy downpour in the morning as was witnessed Thursday evening, we will take a call depending on the situation,” said the official.

The defence ministry, the nodal ministry in charge of the celebrations, has been gathering capes and parasols in the event of a downpour for VIPs and other guests who will be present during the occasion.

Should the rains continue till the evening, it could affect President Pratibha Patil’s tea party in the Mughal Gardens. Rashtrapati Bhavan officials have made contingency plans for that too.

“We will be shifting the venue to the upper loggia and the Ashok, Darbar and Banquet hall will accomodate the 4,000 guests who have been invited for the reception. It’s all been fixed and we will serve refreshments there,” said spokesperson, Archana Datta.

“Though hundreds of school children from all parts of the city performing at the function will not be provided any roof cover, they have been given rain coats by the defence ministry,” said a top security official.

The children, from all age groups, will start entering the Red Fort lawns before dawn and remain at their designated seats till after the prime minister has addressed the nation.

“We have no problem going there and our teachers have given us rain coats. We will wear them in case of a downpour and perform the songs and cultural items,” said 14-year-old Neha Sharma, a Class 8 student of a state-run school. The students have been training for the past month for the Independence Day function.

Mukul Sharma, 12, another student, said: “This is the first time that I am part of the event at the Red Fort and I am very excited. Out teachers have already told us to keep our raincoats with us.”

Around 20,000 Delhi Police and paramilitary personnel - tasked to provide impenetrable security cover - will be performing their duties wearing waterproof coats in case of rain.

Heavy rains would prevent enthusiastic crowds from attending the 62nd Independence Day function on the lawns in front of the 17th century fort.

B.P. Yadav, one of the IMD directors, said: “It will be a generally cloudy sky with a few spells of rain and thundershowers in some areas. But we are also expecting some heavy spells of rain tomorrow (Friday).”

Mediapersons and those eager to attend the event under an open sky have been advised to carry raincoats with them. Umbrellas are not allowed. No temporary sheds have been erected.

Many people are having second thoughts of whether to risk attending the function at the Red Fort. Some feel it would be better to watch the programme on TV at home.

“This is our Independence Day. Whatever it takes I will definitely attend the function at the Red Fort,” said 45-year-old Anil Sadana, who attends the function every year with his family.

But Aarti Gulati, a housewife, was not too keen to get wet. “We’ll see tomorrow. If there is a heavy downpour we will prefer to abstain and sit at home with our family.”

Monika Sharma, a working professional, said: “It all depends on Friday’s weather. If it is fine we will go, otherwise it would be better to sit at home.”

“Our men have been trained to perform their duty in any condition - even in heavy rain,” Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told IANS.

However, some senior official said the rains could spoil the mood of the important event.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and praying that it should not rain till the programme is over and all the VVIPs reach their destinations,” said another senior official.

“In 2006, we had faced some difficulties due to the same reason. It affects the security personnel as visibility drops to minimum and the personnel find it very difficult to remain at the same place for hours,” the official added.

Security was further tightened in and around the Red Fort, from where the prime minister will address the nation following intelligence inputs that some terror outfits were planning to target top politicians and prominent buildings in the capital.

The entire Red Fort complex in the heart of Delhi, where the country’s top political leadership will be present for official celebrations, has been sanitized and several areas have been sealed off for the general public.

Security has also been tightened at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the parliament complex, inter-state bus terminals, railway stations, popular markets and leading cinema houses besides the Delhi Metro network.

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