Many have died due to lethal kite strings, evoking numerous laws across India. But it would be more effective for the central government to implement one law to ban them
By Nayantara Roy
On Independence Day, two children, aged three and four, lost their lives in Delhi to “Chinese” manjha, the nylon string used to fly kites. In separate incidents, they were looking out of the sun roofs of their cars when the string cut into their necks. The previous day, a motorcyclist was killed when a kite string caught his throat, causing him to fall and hit his head on the road. This led the Delhi government to ban kite strings on August 18.
In a PIL to the Delhi High Court in Zulfiquar Hussain vs Government of NCT of Delhi, the petitioner sought a “complete ban on sale, production, storage, supply and use of nylon, plastic and Chinese manjha and other kite-flying thread that is sharp or made sharp such as being laced with glass, metal or other sharp objects in National Capital Territory of Delhi” as it had caused injuries and even deaths. The petitioner’s nephew was seriously injured by nylon/plastic kite thread. The petition cited various newspaper reports of injuries and even deaths due to synthetic kite string around the country. These included the death of an engineer in Bareilly when his throat was slashed by kite string, a five-year-old boy riding a bike with his father, a ten-year-old in Delhi, a three-year-old girl in Ahmedabad…the list goes on.
Chinese manjha is cheaper than Bareilly cotton string that was traditionally used and has a higher tensile strength. It is banned in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka and in the cities of Cuttack, Mumbai, Allahabad and now Delhi.
Similar petitions have been filed in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The Allahabad High Court in its judgment in Anurag Misra vs State of Uttar Pradesh on November 19, 2015, ordered the prohibition, sale and use of this synthetic string which they described as metallic/nylon, including a glass coating. The petition sought that kite-flying be restricted to designated areas and drew attention to the fact that birds too were affected by this string. The petition was filed after a death was caused by the string.
An article in Scroll explains that “Chinese manjha” is not really Chinese. Polypropylene, which forms a large component of the string, used to be imported from China and Taiwan, hence the name. But the string is manufactured indigenously in places like Bangalore, Noida and Sonipat. It is cheaper than Bareilly cotton string that was traditionally used and has a higher tensile strength. It is banned in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka and in the cities of Cuttack, Mumbai, Allahabad and now Delhi.
The Allahabad High Court in the Anurag Misra case said: “We are conscious of the limitations on the evidentiary value of such newspaper reports. However, having due regard to the element of public interest involved, we are of the view that the matter is serious enough to warrant appropriate action by the District Administration as we shall now indicate, at a wider state level, since the problem may not be only confined to the city of Allahabad.” The Allahabad High Court had hastened to clarify that it is not banning kite flying per se, just the use of this dangerous string. It left the decision of designating areas for kite-flying to the administration.
Even in the petition before the Delhi High Court, the Court had expressed the need for more data. Nevertheless, the fact that people were being killed by the string was such a serious issue that both courts preferred to ban the use of the string.
Definitions of “Chinese” manjha vary, although there appears to be consensus that it is synthetic and has glass or other sharp objects like metal embedded in it. Different states have used different methods to ban the string. In Uttar Pradesh, the additional district magistrate, Allahabad, issued an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure banning the manufacture and sale of Chinese manjha. In Delhi, while Section 133 read with Section 142 of the CrPC has been invoked as an emergency measure till October, a notification under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, has been passed banning the manufacture and sale of this dangerous string. As such a notification allows time for objections, measures under the CrPC have been put in place in the interim by the divisional commissioner.
In UP, the additional district magistrate of Allahabad issued an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure banning the manufacture and sale of Chinese manjha. In Delhi, Section 133 read with Section 142 of the CrPC has been invoked as an emergency measure till October.
Widespread pleas for banning this string may need an order across the country by the central government. One kite string trader reportedly said that the government has not even clearly defined Chinese manjha. Different states were using different laws to ban the string. An appraisal of the most effective laws should be done to ban it and it should be implemented countrywide.
Both the Delhi and Allahabad High Courts emphasized the need for the government to spread awareness about the dangers of using this kind of thread. There has been a long tradition of dipping kite string in glass paste. People must be informed that such strings can kill.
Kite-flying has been evocative of happy childhood and freedom, with festivals like Independence Day and Makar Sankranti being synonymous with this symbol of freedom. To retain these simple pleasures of life, a solution needs to be found to make kite-flying safe.
Lead picture: Workers making kite strings in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Photo: UNI