Lahore: Police in Pakistan`s Punjab province have launched a massive crackdown on people selling and flying kites and made over 1,000 arrests after a local group announced it would observe the Basant festival in the traditional manner by flying kites.
The traditional practice of flying kites during Basant was banned three years ago after several people were killed or injured by glass and metal-coated kite twine.
The arrests were made in the provincial capital of Lahore and other parts of Punjab. Police seized over 40,000 kites and 10,000 twine spools over the last couple of days. Among those arrested was Lahore Kite Flying Association president Sheikh Saleem, who had allegedly announced that Basant would be celebrated on March 6 and 7 in defiance of the ban.
Punjab police chief Tariq Saleem Dogar has said the crackdown will continue till March 7.
Dogar said pickets manned by special magistrates had been set at entry points of Lahore to check the transportation of kites and twines from or to the city.
"Special committees have been established at the union council level to ensure that the ban on kite flying is not violated," he said.
The Lahore High Court recently dismissed 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 were killed or injured by the sharp twine.
According to government figures, at least 18 people were killed and 24 injured in incidents related to kite-flying during 2006-09.
The local power utility suffered losses of over Rs 5 billion after twine damaged electricity lines and grid stations.
In the past, Basant attracted a sizeable number of foreign tourists to Lahore as it was more popular than even religious festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha.
Women in particular would participate in the festival in large numbers.
"We used to wait for the whole year for this event. Now it is no more and it seems that our city has lost its charm," said Meena Pervez, a student of the University of
"I was better than my brothers at flying kites. I am very disappointed that there will be no Basant this year." However, Justice Ijaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court, in his judgement upholding the ban on kite-flying, observed: "The kite-flying ordinance ensures the safety of lives and property of people."
On the other hand, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer said he favoured the traditional practice.
"It is very unfortunate that Lahorites won’t celebrate Basant. Depriving us from celebrating Basant is tantamount to depriving us of our fundamental rights," he said.
Taseer criticised the Punjab government for depriving the people of fun activities on one pretext or on the other. "Such an attitude will make the people sick," he said and vowed to defy the ban.
"I am a Lahorite and will certainly celebrate Basant," Taseer reiterated.
The PML-N-led government has announced that it would not allow even the Governor to celebrate Basant. "He (Taseer) will be handcuffed if he dares to hold the event in the Governor’s House," PML-N Senator Pervez Rashid said recently.
Kite flying associations have suggested the government could allow the practice in an open area to avoid any untoward incidents.
"The government says that even if a single person is killed by twine, the associations’ office-bearers will be booked for murder.”
“I think the Basant chapter for Lahorites and the people in other parts of Pakistan is over," said Aslam Jadoon, an office-bear of a kite flying group.