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Delhi gets ground-air shield

New Delhi, Aug. 12: A larger number of helicopters clattering above will team up with snipers perched on rooftops in an unprecedented aerial security blanket thrown over the Red Fort when the Prime Minister delivers his customary Independence Day address.

The ground-sky co-ordination is the first ever for August 15, but as Delhi Police special commissioner (security) Ajay Chaddha says, the “threat perception being faced by the country as of now is the highest possible”.

Helicopters have been part of aerial surveys of the Red Fort ramparts on I-Day before but this time they will take turns to ensure a constant aerial watch of the edifice “and surrounding sensitive areas”. That could extend kilometres away, to Delhi’s Fleet Street, near ITO, where most newspaper offices are located. Even the building housing The Telegraph will have snipers on its rooftop.

Celebrations for an Independence Day have rarely been so muffled but the 59th such occasion in India’s history has already come under the shadow of near-daily warnings about terror strikes waiting to be unleashed.

Intelligence agencies have confirmed the US warning of possible attacks in the days ahead and asked security officials to be on “maximum alert” — not only for August 15, but right up to Janmashtami, two days later.

Thursday’s foiled attempt in London to blow up planes has also given the safety drill here a sharper edge. Snipers will be armed with long-range air defence guns, with a range of 300 metres, and telescopic binoculars will monitor rooftops that are deemed sensitive.

Over 10,000 CRPF personnel will scan multi-layered check-points around Red Fort and other sensitive areas in Lutyen’s Delhi — the part of the capital housing the seat of power. The number is 50 per cent more than last year. They will be backed by hundreds of Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the NSG, also a first.

Delhi Police is reinforcing security for “top leaders of political parties”. More CRPF commandos will guard Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “There appears to be a plan to target prominent leaders and other symbols of national importance,” Chaddha said.

CRPF’s 61 platoons have already been pressed into duty since the beginning of this month. Twenty more joined the exercise on Friday, in the wake of the London scare.

Key entry points to central Delhi will have 300 sniffer dogs. Old Delhi has already been sanitised. Religious shrines and railway stations will also be under close watch.

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