Flying Kite in India may End you up in Jail for 2 Years or a Fine of Ten Lakh Rupees or Both
Flying kites, balloons and aircraft are the same in the eyes of India’s laws. According to an 80-year old law, Indians need the same permit to fly kite as flying the aircraft. India’s repertoire of laws that have failed to work- the terms used for describing it such as bizarre, weird, irrelevant and absurd seem infinite. These cannot be stated as “bad laws”, rather are termed “obsolete”, however, all of these are “live” that can make you to the court. With a backlog of 31 million pending cases, which would take 364 years to be cleared with a strength of 10.5 judges per million people.
The vibrant festival of Makar Sankranti, is one of the most auspicious festivals celebrated in almost all parts of the country with distinct names and rituals in different states.
Each year this festival is observed during the middle of January and marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara or Capricorn. The festival also marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and after the festival, the days start getting longer. This is one of the few festivals that is celebrated according to the solar cycles as most of the Indian festivals are celebrated according to lunar cycles.
Celebrated under various names across the nation, Makar Sankranti is best marked by flying kites. People gathering on the rooftops cover the sky with various colourful kites. From kids and adults, everybody is indulged in the beautiful ceremony of kite flying. However, did you know that this seemingly harmless act can land you in prison?
As part of the Repeal Laws Campaign, Centre for Civil Society explores obsolete and regressive laws that potentially hinder the daily life of the Indian citizens, which are making them susceptible to selective enforcement and abuse. The first part of the series containing the Aircraft Act of 1934 regulates all flying “machines” including balloons and kites. Kite flyers need to be careful as negligence while flying might lead to criminal prosecution. Moreover, there is a provision under the Aircraft Act 1934 that states negligent kite flying a criminal offence.
Under the outdated Section 11 of the Act, a person can be sentenced for a term of 2 years of imprisonment or imposed a penalty of Rs. 10 lakh if he or she flies an aircraft in a manner that would be causing “danger to any person or any property on land or water or in the air”. According to the Act of 1934, the term “aircraft” is used to mean any machines, which can “derive support in the atmosphere from the reaction of the air that includes balloons, airships, kites, gliders, and flying machines”.
A high court lawyer, AK Jain believes that as the definition of the aircraft in the Act includes a kite, then one can be jailed even for lying kite. The law is quite hilarious and none of Indians has ever been brought to book under the section of the Act, however, the law exists. The lawyer opines what makes the law more interesting, though never been used; it was amended in January 2008. Earlier the law stated the maximum term of imprisonment for a term of six months and Rs. 10,000, with its amendment, the sentence was increased to two years along with a fine of Rs 10 lakh.
Singh further added that when a man flies an aircraft in an unauthorised manner, it is certainly a grievous offence and calls for harsh punishment. The flaw in the Act is the definition of aircraft, which includes kites. Presumably, when a person harms someone while flying kites, says lawyer Singh, he or she is booked under Section 11 of the Aircraft Act. A senior police officer opinionated that it is impracticable to enforce this law in the country.
As per the existing law, a kite cannot be flown without a licence authorising its use, maintenance and manufacture and any person found violating the law is liable for a term of imprisonment as well as a hefty fine. The absurdity of the Act has further been emphasized in Section 11 wherein any person found guilty of flying an aircraft and causing damage can be jailed for a term of 2 years or a fine of ten lakh rupees or both.
This is problematic on two levels. Firstly, the clubbing of relatively harmless objects such as balloons and kites with more serious machines such as airships, gliders and flying machines under the tag of “aircraft” is similar comparing hand catapults to assault rifles. Secondly, the demand for the extent of regulation and intervention in the use of kites and balloons as in the use of aeroplanes is unreasonable and given the commonality of the former.
Additionally, for a piece of legal literature being overly generous in its definition of ‘aircraft’, Section 11 of the Act failed to describe the constituents of ‘danger’. The lack of clarity, though hilarious in its obscurity, wields the power for the state for manipulation and harassment of the public as and when deemed fit.
This gapping extent for interpretation and thereby preys an innocent child flying a balloon at India Gate on Children’s Day or even at several kite flying competitions held in the country on Independence Day. Presently, the most bewildering fact is that such a law as this failed to top the list for repeal despite the aggressive pursuit of repealing the obsolete laws in the past few years.
Reflecting on the primitive demands of the Act, the need to beseech an amendment in the rule of law cannot be stressed. Enacted in 1934, the Aircraft Act aimed in providing for a better “control of the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of aircraft”. However, it has been more than 80 years and the law still proves to be a classic example of law out of step with time.
Kite flying is a popular sport in India and Pakistan when earlier men fought brutal battles in the skies with their kites. The famous Indian author, Ruskin Bond, in one of his evocative short stories, described “kites swerving and swooping in the sky, tangling with each other until the string of one was severed", especially during the battles of the first half of the 20th century. however, the present-day sport of kite fighting has become a dangerous activity.
Mehul Pathak, a founder of the kite flying club in Gujarat, India states that most people do not recognize kite flying a recreational sport. Currently, flyers are using dangerous strings and the age-old harmless cotton strings have been forgotten. Most of the kite strings available in the market are coated with metal or crushed glass mixed with glue that helps in cutting strings of the rival kites in hotly contested flying contests. However, during the past five years, flyers are using nylon strings laced with glass that are stronger and more dangerous than regular kite strings. These strings do not snap easily and have been blamed for recent deaths.
Falling kite strings are lethal as they catch unsuspecting bikers across the throat, often killing them. In 2016 two children were found in the capital city of India, Delhi, who were looking out through the sunroof of their cars when the falling strings slit their throats. Metal coated strings falling on electricity lines and overhead power cables, and people have been electrocuted while they tried in retrieving their kites.
These strings have reportedly caused short circuits and power outages in the city. However, the kite strings aren’t the only reason why kite flying is stated to be dangerous. Many fliers have reported falling off from unguarded terraces while they tried to fly and chase them, which further led to several road accidents.
The shocking deaths reported in the capital city sparked outrage over the sale and use of dangerous kite strings, but the truth is that every year several deaths and injuries occur from kite flying happen in several parts of India and Pakistan. In 2015, the police in the southern city of Chennai banned kite flying with sharp strings after a report of 4 deaths and 14 injuries in three years.
Gujarat has a rich tradition of kite flying during a traditional festival marking the advent of spring or during the festival of Makar Sankranti. A top emergency service reports a 10-20% rise in hospital admissions during the two days of celebrations. In January 2016, the service reported 583 admissions in hospitals during the two days’ celebrations with nearly 100 of them linked to injuries related to sharp strings. The chief of the Emergency Management and Research Institute, Jaswant Parajapati opinionated that kite flying as a risky sport.
The government has undertaken several measures and attempts for making kite flying a safer sport or banning it completely. However, in some parts of Pakistan police arrested kite-flyers, seizing thousands of kites, banning flying in certain provinces and asked parents for prohibiting children from flying kites. In India, police in Chennai have organized street plays and school programs for educating the citizens on the dangers of flying kites with dangerous strings.
Moreover, several laws have been enacted against flying kites with abrasive strings in several parts of the Indian subcontinent. The states of Punjab, Gujarat, and Maharashtra have banned kite flying and capital, Delhi has nearly four-decades-old law banning kite flying that potentially causes “danger, injury or alarm to persons, animal or property”.
However, the law is difficult in enforcing and many kite enthusiasts buy or make glass-coated strings illegally at their homes. It is almost impossible for the enforcement authorities such as police for tracking down a person who's falling kite is responsible for killing the person and some die-hard kite flyers are reluctant in giving up glass-coated strings. Rajneesh Chhibber, who is running three dozen kite flying clubs in the northern city of Lucknow is a fierce defender of such strings and stated that without these strings the kites of opponent parties cannot be cut.
Kite flying will remain a much-loved sport in India and making it safer would be difficult. Flying kite is not considered as an offence if you are using a plastic string for your kite. However, in some circumstances and areas, it is offensive and the use of abrasive strings coated with crushed glass is illegal in India and banned in many states.