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SOURCE: THE PRINT

No children aged below 15 years, less than one-fourth the usual number of participants, and no standing spectators — these are some of the changes the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the Republic Day parade.

The 2021 Republic Day parade on 26 January will come just days before India completes a year of its battle against Covid-19 — the first coronavirus case in the country was reported last January, and the first fatality recorded in March.

While India is set to roll out vaccines for the disease, Covid-19 continues to infect thousands of people every day. As a result, several restrictions will be in place as India marks its 72nd Republic Day with the annual parade, which is a showcase of the country’s cultural heritage and military might.

Speaking to ThePrint, senior government officials said the 2021 Republic Day parade will be a low-key affair with 25,000 spectators, as compared to 1.15 lakh last year.

The conduct of the parade, the sources added, will be similar to last year, but “social distancing has been factored into all activities”. However, the distance the parade covers will be shorter. While the parade usually goes from Vijay Chowk to the Red Fort, it will end at National Stadium this time, a difference of approximately 5 km.

Covid protocols in place

According to senior government officials, only children aged above 15 years will be allowed at the parade, and there will be no standing spectators. 

The usual tiered stands — used for seating the audience during the Republic Day parade and the Beating the Retreat ceremony (29 January) — will be missing as well. Instead, the officials said, chairs will be placed on wooden elevated platforms of three different heights — 3 inches, 5 inches and 10 inches. A suitable number of rows will be arranged height-wise at the venue to ensure physically-distanced seating, the officials added.  

Other steps being taken in view of the pandemic include thermal screening at all entry points, and a thorough sanitisation of the premises. The dais, officials said, will be sprayed with anti-viral/bacterial coating.

Masks, gloves and hand sanitisers will be available at the gates.

Eight isolation/resting booths will be set up at the venue in case anyone is detected with symptoms of Covid-19 during entry. A doctor and a paramedic will be stationed at each of these booths.

26 tableaux this year

There will be 26 tableaux at the parade this year, including from nine central ministries and departments, and 17 states and Union Territories (UTs). Last year’s parade had 22 tableaux.

There will be two special tableaux this year — one from the Ministry of Culture, heralding “75 years of Independence” celebrations (India completes 75 years of Independence in 2022), and another on “New India” (a catchphrase of the Modi government) by the Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry, the sources said.

An expert committee under the defence ministry selects the tableaux from several applications. 

A team from the Bangladesh armed forces will also participate in the parade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

As many as 23 bands — 18 from the Army, one from the Navy and the IAF each, and three from the Central Armed Police Forces — are scheduled to play 24 music tunes. 

Another possible difference this year is the absence of a foreign dignitary as chief guest. India had invited UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the parade but he dropped out Tuesday, at the last moment, citing the Covid situation. If this happens, it will be a first since 1966.