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Kite strings tie Delhi in killer knots

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Kite strings tie Delhi in killer knots

Two little kids, out on joyrides with their parents on Independence Day in 2016, stuck their heads out of the sunroof windows of their cars and had their vocal cords and windpipes cut by kite strings in Delhi. Both died instantly. Soon after, a 22-year-old motorcyclist had his throat slit and died. The killer remained the same.

The deaths sparked uproar and the Delhi government had to ban the production, storage and sale of metal- or glass-coated kite threads known as manjha.

On paper, any violation of the ban attracts a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh or both. The ban also allows the use of only cotton threads or any natural fibre that is free from metallic or glass components.

But three years on, the deadly strings are easily available in Delhi's markets. Manjha is being sold in many areas such as Patel Nagar, Vikaspuri, Janakpuri, Mayapuri, Shadipur, Tilak Nagar, Narela, Alipur, Mundka, Bawana, Kanjhawala, Kiradi, Begampur, Prem Nagar, Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri.

This Independence Day, a 28-year-old civil engineer died when his throat was slit by a kite thread while he was riding a two-wheeler. On the same day, a minor boy was electrocuted when his kite string touched a high-tension electricity wire.

In July, a three-year-old died after a kite thread cut the neck of her uncle, causing the motorcycle they were riding to crash. In February, a motorcyclist died after his neck was slashed by a kite thread.

Thousands of Delhiites indulge in kite flying, especially around Independence Day. The sharper the thread, the better the chances of cutting a competitor's kite string.

Experts and activists have called for immediate enforcement of the 2016 ban, saying that the Delhi Police and civic authorities must launch a crackdown.

These threads mostly come from Western Uttar Pradesh towns like Bareilly where they are not banned. Inter-state action is needed to break supply chains and stop manufacturing, experts and activists have said, adding that greater awareness is needed among revellers to stop the use of killer strings.

Killer threads are sold with code words like 'strong' and 'plastic'. In Tagore Garden, an India Today TV team found that Bareilly's manjha is being sold openly.

Police action

"Sale and purchase of this manjha is punishable with up to five years of jail or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh or both. Cops have been authorised to take action against sellers and buyers," said MS Randhawa, DCP (Central) and Delhi Police spokesperson.

"We have started booking manjha sellers to ensure a sense of fear among them. Also, the intensity of raids will be increased to ensure a blanket ban on the sale and purchase of manjha. Delhi Police will seek legal advice on how buyers can also be booked for violating the law," he said.

Police said that they raided at least 17 shops on Thursday and booked them for selling the banned thread.

"Raids were conducted in Sadar Bazar and Bara Hindu Rao kite market last week and we seized hundreds of kilograms of manjha from various shops in Madhu Vihar Market," police said.

Experts' take

And it's not just people. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) received 1,000 calls of injuries to birds due to kite strings on Thursday.

Doctors at Sanjay Gandhi Hospital confirmed that more than 70 birds including peacocks were brought with severe manjha injuries.

"Their wings were cut. In many cases, wings got completed separated. They will not be able to fly," said a doctor. As many as 250 birds were treated on Thursday alone at Jain Charitable Hospital in Chandni Chowk.

Sunil Kumar Jain, head of Charity Birds Hospital, said, "On August 15, more than 60 birds died traumatically after being hit by manjha. This year more birds have died."

"In just three days, from August 13-15, about 650 injured birds were brought and 150 died. The condition of about 150 is very critical," said doctor Nidesh Bharadwaj.

Nikunj Sharma, Associate Director of Policy at PETA that was part of the committee formed by Delhi's Lieutenant Governor in 2016 to impose a ban on manjha, told Mail Today, "Banning manjha in one state is no solution. It has to be done across the country because manufacturing is done in Bareilly and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. There must be a tight vigil on Delhi borders through the year."

"Only banning manjha won't be effective. Banning manjha in one state is no solution. It has to be done across the country because manufacturing is done in Bareilly and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. There must be a tight vigil on Delhi borders... 'said Nikunj Sharma, Peta.

"Only banning manjha won't be effective. There is an utter need to educate people about its hazards. Most people would choose plain cotton kite strings if they know that doing so could spare fellow humans, birds and other animals serious injuries and death, said Dr. Ravi Wankhedkar, former President, Indian Medical Association (IMA)."

"We have started booking manjha sellers to ensure a sense of fear among them. Also, the intensity of raids will be increased to ensure a blanket ban on the sale and purchase of manjha. Delhi Police will seek legal advice on how buyers can also be booked for violating the law," said Randhawa, DCP (Central) and Delhi Police spokesperson.

EOD Adventure Park has decided to make the kite-flying festival held from August 14 to 16 at Sanjay Lake manjha-free by distributing cotton threads called saddi among participants. "Since manjha kills both humans and birds every year, we feel it is our moral responsibility to ensure the celebration is fun-filled yet safe," said EOD director Apoorv Babbar.

In August, Peta conducted workshops with the Delhi Police to draw up an action plan for enforcing the ban. This year, for the first time, cops registered offences against manjha sellers.

Metro derailed

On Thursday, Metro services on Blue Line were affected for around 90 minutes due to a technical snag caused by kite threads. "The cause of the snag was found to be excessive kite threads getting entangled with overhead electrification at multiple locations," the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) said.

DMRC also appealed to general public not to fly kites near Metro stations as it may endanger their own safety besides disrupting rail services.

Power disruption

Even power discoms have reported outages due to kite threads. A BSES spokesperson said, "People should enjoy kite flying, but they should do it responsibly. We advise residents not to fly kites near electricity installations, including overhead cables, and certainly avoid using metal or metal-coated manjha."

Delhi environment minister Kailash Gahlot was not immediately available for comments.