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Basant ban

February 14, 2011

THERE was brief hope that the Punjab government may reconsider its ban on Basant-related activities, which has been in place for several years now. These hopes have been dashed, with a provincial government spokesperson saying on Sunday that the ban on the festival and kite-flying will continue and that this decision had been taken in the larger interests of the people. It cannot be denied that kite-flying — the sport traditionally associated with the spring festival of Basant — has caused the loss of life as well as levied a cost on the purse of city governments where the festival was celebrated, primarily Lahore. Before Basant-related activities were banned, the changing weather was accompanied by headlines about deaths due to kite-flyers falling from high places, or motorcyclists becoming entangled in deadly kite-string. When the latter would get caught in power lines, the result on numerous occasions was electricity breakdowns and the consequent inconvenience and cost of repair.

In imposing a ban, however, the provincial government is avoiding the issue rather than addressing it. Solving the problems associated with Basant would lie in measures such as ensuring that the dangerous sort of kite-string, which is coated in ground glass, is neither manufactured nor available, in educating kite-flyers about public safety issues and in organising Basant-related activities. Kite-flying could have been taken away from the streets if the government promoted it in spacious public parks where it would not constitute a safety hazard. While Basant levied certain costs, it also provided great benefits. The festival was awaited with anticipation. In the years before the ban was imposed, Lahore became famous for the festival and people — not just the elites — would go there for the Basant weekend. The boost in tourism was good for business and the city. By taking the easy option of imposing a ban, the pro-vincial government has robbed its people of one of their traditional pleasures. Equally to blame are the irresponsible elements that persisted in selecting dangerous methods of celebration, such as aerial firing and using the glass-coated kite-string. The Punjab government ought to come up with ways in which Basant celebrations can be properly and safely organised, rather than be banned outright.