ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government has announced to celebrate the Basant festival in second week of February.
The announcement was greeted with both praise and caution as the festival has the deadly history causing deaths, injuries and huge financial losses in past. “Basant will be celebrated in Lahore in the second week of February,” Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan told a press conference on Tuesday.
The festival was banned by the Supreme Court in 2005, following reports of 19 deaths and numerous injuries caused during the kite-flying festival. The Punjab government had also banned the festival through a notification in 2007.
When contacted by The News, the spokesperson to the Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Gill said ban on Basant has not been lifted yet. He said a committee headed by Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat has been constituted to look into all aspects of Basant before the final announcement on restoration of the festival.
To a question about the ban on the festival by the Supreme Court, the spokesperson said the government will seek the permission of the apex court if that was the case. “The formation of the committee does not mean the restoration of Basant festival itself,” he added. “There was no announcement to celebrate Basant by Punjab government yet,” he clarified.
Following is the brief history of event related to Basant festival after 2005.
On 25th October, 2005, A Supreme Court bench had imposed ban on kites flying, manufacturing, buying and selling. The court headed by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had been informed about the deaths, injuries as well as financial losses caused by the kite-strings.
During the hearing, Amicus curie Shahid Hamid had submitted that Lesco’s installations worth Rs1 billion were damaged while 15,566 trippings were recorded in a month. The court was informed that deaths and injuries are being caused by use of sharp glass and coated strings by kite flyers, people falling to their deaths from roofs and indiscriminate aerial firing.
According to a media report in 2005, around 19 people died and more than 200 were injured in February during Basant before the SC ban.
Later the Basant ban was lifted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for 15 days in March, 2006 but was again enforced late night on 10 March by Pervaiz Elahi, the than chief minister of Punjab. On January 4, 2006, the provincial government of Punjab lifted the ban for 24 hours so that kite flying can be enjoyed on the holiday.
In January 2007, a nine-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry rejected a Punjab government plea seeking permission for kite flying in the province.
The bench observed that as the provincial government had already introduced legislation, therefore, now the SC permission for kite flying was uncalled for. “It is now provincial duty to keep law and order. The Supreme Court will not become a party in this case at this stage because when people die due to kite flying, people criticise the Supreme Court now this time we will keep ourselves aloof and the onus for killing during Basant will be on the Punjab government.”
Following the court hearing, the Punjab government issued a notification on February 27, 2007 banning Basant festival in the province.
On February 3, 2009, The News reported that Lahore police have strongly opposed lifting the ban on kite flying in view of the losses of human lives, disruption of power supply and damage to Wapda installations.
The report said the Lahore police have presented a comprehensive data of losses caused by kite flying in a meeting held with Home Secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif. Representatives of the Kite Flying Association (KFA) also participated in the meeting.
The meeting was also told that around seven people were killed and 10 injured in 2006 despite special measures were taken to avoid any untoward incident and the ban was lifted for a short span of time. Around six people were killed and 10 injured during Basant Festival in 2007 while there were a number of incidents which went unreported.
In 2009 Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying (Amendment) Act 2009 was passed.
The amended law permits kite flying only for 15 days bans the use of chemical and glass-coated twine and large kites. The permission for Basant, under the law would only be granted after the final approval of the head of city district administration and police.
On March 16, 2012, a two-member bench comprising Justices Saqib Nisar and Tassaduq Hussain Jilani finally disposed off the suo moto taken in 2005 directing the Punjab government to strictly implement Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying Act 2009.
In his press conference Punjab Minister for Information said there was no ban on Basant by the Supreme Court. He said the Supreme Court in its order had clarified that there was no restriction on holding the Basant festival and that it should be celebrated while staying within the ambit of law, as well as the rules and regulations defined by the government.