Hope for the basant

March 15, 2020

Kiteflying enthusiasts are looking to make a fresh comeback, as the Lahore High Court (LHC) hears a petition to return the poor man’s sport to the city

Laws were made in haste without seeking expert opinion or input from most stakeholders. — Photos by Rahat Dar

After almost two decades of legal and political wrangling on whether kiteflying — and, correspondingly, basant — should be allowed in the region, we might finally see the last of the argument. As the Lahore High Court (LHC) recently started hearing a petition to return the poor man’s sport to the city, basant enthusiasts are hoping to make a fresh comeback.

Basant, as a festival, was traditionally celebrated at the time of the year when winter said goodbye and spring was upon us. Though, a dedicated basant day (and night) was usually announced by the kiteflying association, the sport was enjoyed throughout the season, especially in the Walled City where people would enjoy the game on rooftops.

Lahore used to be the epicentre of basant festivities. The city would also attract foreigners to the festival. As its scope and influence widened, and kiteflying became incredibly commercialised, new rules and regulations were needed to address the ensuing problems such as damage to electrical installations and human fatalities. Owing to the negligence of the authorities, the loopholes in relevant laws and their poor implementation, kiteflying had turned deadly. The government, it seemed, had no better option than to put a halt on it, thereby shutting a booming industry altogether, and taking away the livelihood of an entire lot of people associated with it. The best way would have been to address the core issues, form regulations, and purge the sport of all possible detriment to human life and public installations.

According to government statistics, during the years 2006-09, more than 18 people were killed and 24 others were injured in incidents related to kiteflying. Besides, Wapda faced losses worth Rs 5 billion. Damage to its grid stations reached Rs 57 million during the period.

In the past, extreme measures have included imposition of Section 144 to stop firing in the air and the use of metal wire. Later, the Punjab Prohibition of Dangerous Kite Flying Activity Ordinance, 2001, was promulgated. It was followed by Prohibition of Kite flying (Amended) Ordinance, 2006; Prohibition of Kite Flying (Amended) Ordinance, 2007; and Prohibition of Kite Flying (Amended) Ordinance, 2009. From Musharraf’s regime down to Nawaz Sharif’s government, a number of high-level committees were formed but they all failed to come up with adequate regulations to ensure a safe basant.

An application was submitted to DCO, Lahore, to declare the Ravi syphon a safe zone for the sport, as it is far away from any roads and residential areas.

In 2005, the Supreme Court took suo motu action of the incidents where the kite dor had killed bikers on public roads. The ruling forbade committing or abetting the act of kiteflying and/or manufacture and sale of kites. In 2012, it was disposed of, and the court ordered the government to give kiteflying a go-ahead, subject to enforcement of safety regulations. A few writ petitions were later filed but the fate of the festival remained the same.

When the PTI came into power in 2018, it made a lot of noise about reviving basant, but ended up going quiet on the matter, perhaps because of a lack of will or for fear of backlash from the people who had been forced to view it as a ‘blood sport,’ or the conservative religious elements who still see it a Hindu tradition.

On March 10, the LHC began hearing a petition filed by Khalid Malik, president of Kite Flying Lovers Association (KFLA) to revive the sport by making it hazard-free. The petition says that although the Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying (Amendment) Bill, 2009 permits kiteflying for 15 days, in accordance with the set of rules laid down by the government, lovers of the sport have been deprived of their fundamental right to enjoyment that is protected under the constitution.

The petition argues that all sorts of losses may easily be prevented if the government of the Punjab regulates the manufacturing, sale and distribution of the kite thread (dor) and identifies safe kiteflying zones. It proposes the bank of the River Ravi at the BRB syphon to be made into a kiteflying hotspot in spring season.

As per the petition, an application was submitted to the Lahore District Coordination (DCO), Lahore, to declare the phace a safe zone for the sport, as it is far away from any roads and residential areas. It is unlikely that a kite or dor would kill a commuter/biker there. “An environment al impact assessment can be carried out to further fortify the viability of the said zone,” the petitioner pleads, adding that kiteflying is a popular sport around the globe, and most countries haven’t needed to ban it. For instance, there are designated kiteflying zones in Weifang, China; Jaipur, India; Hamamatsu, Japan; and Bali, Indonesia, where millions of people witness and fly the colourful objects in the air.

“You don’t need rocket science to make kiteflying a safe activity.”

Finally, the petition says that restoring kiteflying will not only generate revenue but also help revive allied industries such as tourism and employment for daily wagers, especially women who lost their source of income after the ban.

The DCO is yet to respond to the application of the petitioner. It is believed that he is trying to gain time, so that the spring season may pass.

Talking to TNS, Advocate Nasir Khan highlights many lacunae in the previous legal frameworks that messed up the situation: “It seems that laws were made in haste without seeking expert opinion or input from stakeholders, as none of the laws mentions kiteflyers, their lawful actions, and punishments in cases of violation. They focus on manufacturers, sellers, places and particularly the sharpness of manjha (the mixture of glue, dye, and flour, and the powered glass of the weakest type which is coated on the thread to strengthen it), but do not guide on specifications of sharpness and measuring standards.”

Khan says that earlier there was a legal requirement to seek permission from the district nazim and union nazims, but they do not exist in the current system.

On the other hand, the LHC noted “with regret that after the pronouncement of judgment on February 15 2001, the ordinance 2001 was promulgated on December 26 2001 but without incorporating any specific condition. A perusal of the 2001 ordinance reveals that it does not contain a preventive mechanism, define the nature of criminal liability, followed by a penal offence.”

Lawyer Ahmer Bilal Sufi, appeared before the court and pointed out a number of defects in the ordinance and asked for it to be amended.

According to Khalid Malik, “You don’t need rocket science to make kiteflying a safe activity. If genuine stakeholders are taken on board, the government should be able to design result-oriented regulations.

“For instance, the dor is easy to standardise. If the dor is prepared observing certain criterion, even a sharp manjha can never be coated,” he adds.

Malik demands replacing the pinna (ball) with charkhi (spool), because the thick thread is the main cause of fatalities.

“We all know that the threat of terrorist attacks almost put an end to cricket in the country, but then the government found a way out. Today, if we can host PSL matches by strictly following certain procedures and security measures, why can’t we have kiteflying too?” he asks.

It is interesting to note that the role of District Kite Flying Association (DKFA) in assisting government in regulating, registration and licence issues has ended. As Nadeem Wyne, the president of DKFA, says, “Since our first election was held and the association was formed, it was rendered dysfunctional. The DCO never bothered to convene a meeting, which is mandatory under the law.”

The writer is a freelance journalist

Hope for the basant