India prepares for another I-Day amid concerns


New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is preparing to deliver some reassuring words from the ramparts of the Red Fort as India celebrates the 62nd anniversary of its independence Saturday amid concerns of drought, swine flu and zooming prices but comforted in the knowledge that its economy was on the rebound and the country was playing an increasing global role.

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Manmohan Singh will also match Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s record of six Independence Day addresses from the majestic 17th century fort which is at the core of nationwide celebrations every Aug 15.

“The prime minister will pledge to press ahead with industrialisation and improving infrastructure. His address is also expected to highlight areas like security and consolidation of key social sector programmes that will give a fillip to the country’s overall growth,” said a prime ministerial aide.

While the biggest of all independence day celebrations will take place in New Delhi, other states and district capitals will see smaller flag-raising ceremonies and marches by security personnel.

The Indian economy has not only registered an impressive 6.7 percent growth last fiscal when the world was reeling under the worst financial crisis in over eight decades, but it has clearly shown signs of an early upturn, going by the 7.8 percent growth in industrial output in June.

Against the backdrop of a looming drought, the worst in two decades and rising prices, the government has asked states to crack the whip on hoarders and black marketeers and asserted that there was enough food-stock to last over a year.

On Saturday, a three-tier security ring will be thrown around the Mughal-built Red Fort.

The capital will be declared a no-fly zone during the morning and air defence guns will be placed at strategic locations to ward off unmanned or microlight aircraft.

“India has become accustomed to heightened security provisions at this time of year but after the Mumbai terror attacks, the security establishment is taking no chances,” said a home ministry official.

As the country’s top leadership is expected to be in full attendance at the Red Fort, the historic monument will be turned into a citadel.

This year, the threats are from multiple sources. Indian intelligence reports indicate that Islamist groups based in Pakistan and Bangladesh are planning strikes on Indian soil. Maoists are also plotting attacks.

The home ministry has warned that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba group was trying to sneak its operatives through the porous India-Pakistan border to stage attacks in New Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Last week, the Delhi Police detained two operatives of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen for allegedly planning terror strikes in the Indian capital.

Cadets from the National Cadet Corps will participate in the flag hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort while over 3,000 students from 32 government schools will sing the national anthem.

The Guard of Honour contingent for Manmohan Singh at the Red Fort will consist of one officer and 24 men each from the three defence services and the Delhi Police.

This year, with the Indian Navy being the coordinating agency, the Guard of Honour will be commanded by Commander Gurkeerat Singh Sekhon.