By Nikunj Ohri, Shivangi Acharya and Krishn Kaushik
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – About 130,000 security officers will be deployed as India hosts the world’s most powerful leaders at a G20 summit in New Delhi this month, a showcase for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s growing presence on the world stage.
The two-day summit, starting September 9, will have the most high-profile guest list India has ever welcomed, from U.S. President Joe Biden to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to skip the meeting, sources in New Delhi and Beijing have said.
Leaders from Japan, Australia, France and Germany are also among those expected to attend, although Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is facing criticism from the West for the war in Ukraine, has said he will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The heads of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation will also be present.
The event will take place in the sprawling, refurbished Pragati Maidan, a convention-cum-exhibition centre in the middle of one of the most populous cities in the world.
“This is a historic and momentous moment,” said Dependra Pathak, a special commissioner of the Delhi Police who is in charge of security arrangements in the city. Thousands of personnel from other government security services including the home guards and the para-military Border Security Force will be brought in to maintain law and order, he said.
“To contain protests and gatherings, we will have adequate and robust police presence.”
While Pathak is in charge of security in the city, the main venue will be guarded by a team under another Delhi Police special commissioner, Ranvir Singh Krishnia.
Although the capital is relatively peaceful, as recently as last month, communal tensions flared up in the neighbouring industrial township of Gurugram in which at least seven people were killed.
During the weekend summit, New Delhi’s borders will be closely guarded and access to the city will be regulated, officials said.
Within the city of 20 million, the government is planning a partial shutdown during the summit with schools, government departments and businesses being asked to remain closed for three days.
DEFENCE IN THE SKIES
The city will be guarded by nearly 130,000 security personnel, including the 80,000-strong Delhi Police, officials said.
A spokesperson for the Indian Air Force told Reuters that it will “deploy comprehensive measures for integrated aerospace defence in the Delhi and close-by areas.”
The spokesperson said that the Indian military, including the air force, along with the Delhi Police and paramilitary forces, will deploy anti-drone systems to prevent any aerial threats. About 400 firefighters will also be on call.
Security control rooms are being set up at the venue and special security arrangements have been made at key hotels like the ITC Maurya Hotel, where Biden will stay.
Modi has converted India’s year-long presidency of the G20 into a national event, with different meetings of the group being hosted in key parts of the country, including far-flung Arunachal Pradesh state and Srinagar city in Kashmir.
Through the year, roads, airports, bus stops, parks, railway stations, government offices and government media have been plastered with G20 advertisements.
In New Delhi, new fountains and ornamental plants adorn key traffic roundabouts while life-size cutouts of langurs – a large monkey with a black face – have been put up in several areas to fight the city’s monkey menace.
Modi inaugurated a $300 million venue in the capital in July to host the summit meeting – a conch shell-shaped building that can seat more than 3,000.
The government has also leased 20 bullet-proof limousines at a cost of 180 million Indian rupees ($2.18 million) for ferrying leaders.
Many world leaders travel with their own bodyguards and vehicles. India has requested countries to be “rational” about the number of cars and personnel that they bring, but has not put any restrictions, one government official said.
The official said the U.S. is bringing in over 20 aircraft over a week-long period around the summit.
($1 = 82.6070 Indian rupees)
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)