Basant or bust

February 19, 2017

A look at the elaborate strategy in place to stop the kites from hitting the skies, making one wonder why could the government not make half these efforts to make kite flying safe

Basant or bust

The traditional festival of basant, with kite-flying as its main feature, was for the last time celebrated in Punjab in 2009. Since then, there has been a complete ban on the activity, and the police have been given special instructions and sweeping powers to crack down on kite-flyers and those making and selling the paraphernalia used in the sport.

You switch on your television, go out for shopping, or grab the day’s newspaper, and the one common thing you will come across are the advertisements, banners and announcements about the ills of kite-flying, and the contact numbers at which you can complain about any violators you know. On most occasions, such banners and billboards are sponsored by business concerns, the office-bearers of market associations, local government representatives, budding social workers striving to become known in the locality, and so on.

One wonders whether the implementation of the ban is the only priority of the government, and why such seriousness is not shown in tackling other crimes and violations of laws.

The quarters in favour of safe kite-flying are of the view that if half the efforts the government is making to stop kite-flying are made on making it safe, the activity can return to the cultural landscape of Punjab, more specifically to Lahore.

TNS looks into the different strategies and modus operandi adopted by the government departments working to stop the kites from hitting the skies, and implement the Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying (Amendment) Act 2009. In fact, it was the Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying Ordinance 2001 promulgated by Pervaiz Musharraf that was amended in 2009 to give it its current shape.

Read also: The kite’s the limit

At that time, the words "dangerous kite flying" were substituted by just "kite flying," which means that the sport was banned regardless of whether it was hazardous in any way. Besides, Section 8-A was inserted to give the government the powers to make rules from time to time in carrying out the purposes of the Ordinance. The punishment for violators shall be imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to fine not exceeding Rs 100,000 or to both.

Unfettered powers have been granted to the police to carry out operations against suspected violators. The police officers carry ladders on their vehicles and can directly access rooftops with their help without even knocking at the doors or seeking permission of the residents.

Malik Faisal Yousaf is the President of Chah Miran Market Traders’ Association in Northern Lahore and a notable in the locality. He is a regular contact person for the officials in Misri Shah Police Station when it comes to checking kite flying and identifying violators in congested areas.

Yousaf says that the police often seeks the help of the local notables and requests them to keep a vigilant eye on their immediate neighbourhoods. "They preferably convince the households to ensure that no kite is flown from their rooftops. This helps the police that are short of staff and already burdened by excessive workload."

Read also: "If we sell basant properly, it has the potential to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry"

He reveals that the Station House Officers (SHOs) in whose area kite flying is identified by the media or vigilant teams may face censure from the high-ups and stricter punishments like suspension.

One important factor why the implementation of this law is effective is that unfettered powers have been granted to the police to carry out operations against suspected violators. The police officers carry ladders on their vehicles and can directly access rooftops with their help without even knocking at the doors or seeking permission of the residents.

It has also been reported that the police knock at the doors of a house where someone is spotted as flying kites on the rooftop or balcony, and they take away the very first person who opens the door. This happens even if the poor guy has no clue to the activity; the person can be charged for abetting the crime, as per the law.

Hafiz Shahid Ghani, a lawyer based in Lahore, states that he has handled some cases of violation of this law and believes it is quite a strict one. "Under the provisions [of the law], a police officer, on getting information or submission, can arrest without warrant any person committing or suspected to have committed an offence under this law.

"The officer can enter and search such a place at any time with assistance that he may require, and using force that may be necessary, and seize any article reasonably suspected to have been used or intended to be used for the purpose of committing an offence related to the ban in force."

According to Ghani, the police have been given extraordinary powers to inspect a suspected site and are exempt from following the procedure described in Section 103 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. He explains that the said section makes it binding on the officer or other person about to make a search to call upon two or more respectable inhabitants of the locality as witnesses to the search. "The search has to be made in their presence, and a list of all things seized in the course of such search shall be signed by such witnesses.

"Given this scenario, the police hardly return unsuccessful, and thus create a major deterrent," he concludes.

One objection raised by the common people is that why the police and the government cannot obstruct the supply chain and stop the paraphernalia from arriving in the market. Ali, who wants to be identified by his second name only, has an explanation: "The kite makers have moved to other provinces and settled in cities like Peshawar and Karachi.

"There is a big demand for the export of kites and twines to countries like the UAE and the USA, and these people fulfill the same. Their goods are shipped in connivance with the concerned departments/officials."

Ali says that as the production goes on, some of the products sneak into the local market also. About the twine, he says, its production cannot be stopped as KB -- the manufacturer of thick thread -- has taken a stay order from the ground saying it is used in industrial processes such as stitching of denim. "One can send this to twine makers and get it prepared as per specifications."

He says that unlike in the past, the twine is applied coating inside plots with boundaries or inside large compounds, away from the sight of people on the roadside.

Dr Haider Ashraf, Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Police, Lahore says they are using a multi-pronged policy to implement this ban. For example, he says, announcements are made on speakers from the mosques, the Aman Committees in mohallas are asked to spearhead awareness campaigns, local government representatives are engaged for the purpose, kite makers and related paraphernalia with past record are asked to file surety bonds, announcements/ads are placed in print and electronic media, flexes, banners and signboards are flagged at prominent places in the city and pamphlets about ban on kite-flying are distributed in streets and houses.

Besides, Ashraf says observation posts have been set up where the deployed policemen will be able to identify violators with the help of telescopes and night vision equipment when it is dark.

"The police get major support from informants who by virtue of living amidst the locals can lead them to the right place. Sending of public service text messages to the general public via a dedicated number is a step taken recently."

While the police officials in Rawalpindi ordered use of drone cameras to monitor rooftops, this option has not yet been tried in Lahore.

Basant or bust