LAHORE - Police yesterday arrested several persons and seized kites and bundles of chemical strings from their possession. The raids were part of the ongoing police campaign against kite-flyers.

The arrests were made ‘soon after’ local news channels aired footage showing people busy in flying kites at the rooftops in Lytton Road, Baghbanpura, Mughalpura, Harbanspura and Shalimar police areas. Cops sprung into action as officers took notice of the banned practice.

So, the police arrested a few men and registered cases against them to show their good work; it’s another debate whether those arrested were actually flying kites or not. The violators were arrested and booked under the Punjab prohibition of kite flying act. The quick police action is supposedly meant to satisfy the high-ups.

In 2005, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had banned the spring festival over a number of deaths caused by the use of sharp and glass coated strings. The festival of kite-flying was completely banned across the Punjab province.

Every year during the spring, kite-flyers play hide and seek with the law enforcers in Lahore and other big cities. Arrests are made and people are booked and sent to jail. Young men defy police crackdowns as the government has failed to fully control the production and sale of kites and other material.

In December, some media reports suggested that the government was considering lifting the decade-long ban on kite flying in the provincial metropolis. The Punjab government quickly denied the reports stating that nobody would be allowed to celebrate the Basant festival in certain parts of the city in February 2017.

The reports about the approval of Basant in Punjab surfaced on different news channels, leading many religious personalities, including Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rahman, to condemn the decision. However, the Punjab government denied the news and said “if any such step was taken, that would have announced officially.”

A provincial government official termed the media reports as incorrect regarding revival of Basant festival in some parts of the city.

Earlier, it was reported that Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashood said the ‘Safe Basant’ festival will be held in February. “The long awaited festival would entertain Lahorites at designated places in the provincial capital,” the minister was quoted as saying.

In August last year, Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had constituted an eight-member committee, led by MPA Zaeem Qadri, for the revival of Basant in Lahore. The Terms of References of the committee were to come up with well-considered proposals for the revival of Safe Basant, examine the proposal in the light of its touristic potential, and devise a workable code of conduct of regulations for the subject activity.

The kite flying associations had suggested the government to hold the event in an open area to avoid any untoward incident. The government replied that if a single person is killed from the twine of a kite they (associations' office-bearers) would be booked in murder case under section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code.

The Basant festival had become a salient feature of Lahore's culture for the last 200 years or so. Instead of taking action against those producing, selling or using prohibited twines, the government gave police a free hand to enter any premises, register cases even against children and elderly to mint money.

The authorities had banned the festival after massive deaths (mostly of children) shook the society in addition to financial losses. According to official figures, at least 18 people were killed and 24 others injured in incidents related to kite flying during 2006-09. Wapda faced a loss of Rs5 billion, while damage to its grid stations was Rs57 million during the same period.

Many people were irked by the Lahore High Court’s dismissal of a petition challenging the Punjab Prohibition of Kite-Flying Ordinance and seeking permission to celebrate Basant. The ordinance was promulgated in 2007 after several people became victims of sharp twine used for flying kites. “The kite-flying ordinance ensures the safety of lives and property of people,” the court had observed.

According to kite-flyers, Basant has been a festival that helped attract a good number of foreigners to Lahore in the past. Even it had left behind major festivals like Eid festivals as far as the festivity was concerned. Women in particular used to participate in the festival.

“It was a fantastic event and we used to wait for it for the whole year. Now, it seemed that Basant is no more an event for the people of Punjab. We are very much disappointed,” a student of the Lahore College University for Women said. Her brother said: “We understand that there will be no Basant in Lahore in years to come. But we just can’t forget this festival.”

 

 

ASHRAF JAVED