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This week 50 years ago: Parking on Elphinstone Street made punishable

Updated January 18, 2016

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A “real photograph” postcard of Elphinstone Street, Karachi, from the album of an officer in the Royal Air Force, 1924-25.— Photo from book: Representing Sindh: Images of the British Encounter
A “real photograph” postcard of Elphinstone Street, Karachi, from the album of an officer in the Royal Air Force, 1924-25.— Photo from book: Representing Sindh: Images of the British Encounter

For a long stretch of time in post-independence Karachi, no locality in the city enjoyed more importance than Elphinstone Street [now Zaibunnisa Street].

The reason was simple. Saddar and its adjoining areas were, in modern-day parlance, the prime location of the city. It had beautiful buildings [still does, but we all know what condition they are in], it had the largest market, it was dotted with bookstores, it had quality restaurants and the well-heeled liked to loiter about the vicinity, sometimes just for the heck of it. So, the authorities at the time had every reason to keep it as clean as a whistle.

But as Karachi’s population began to burst at the seams and vehicular traffic became unruly, Elphinstone Street, like other roads and streets, started to bear the brunt of it. And who would dispute that the issue of parking is one of the first indicators of civic mismanagement in any urban setup. No different was the situation in this case as well.

According to an official handout published by the newspapers on Dec 18, 1966, the district magistrate of Karachi, in suppression of all previous directives, ordered with immediate effect that no vehicle should be parked along the western side of Elphinstone Street from its junction with Inverarity Road up to the junction with Blenkin Street. Contravention of the order was punishable under Section 34-A of the Police Act, 1961.

It can be guessed that such orders did not make much of a difference because with the passage of time, things went from bad to worse. So much so that despite the fact that Inverarity Road, Elphinstone Street and Blenkin Street have not gone anywhere [though they exist with different names], and are still part of Karachi’s cartography, they have all but disappeared into the heavy smog of history.

Mind you, in those days the city administrators tried their best to keep up with contemporary urban requirements, which was why they were aware of how traffic congestions could damage the environment.

Speaking of requirements, the same day, Jan 18, Karachi commissioner Syed Darbar Ali Shah, who was also chairman of the Karachi Development Authority, inaugurated the plot-to-plot water connection for sectors 7, 8 and 9 of the newly laid out Gulshan. A pumping station for exclusive use in the sectors was also put up. These days, when water and gutter pipelines get burst every now and then, you wonder whether the systems installed 50 years back need to be rechecked.

Then there were areas such as Boultan Market which seldom faced such scarcities, because the amenities provided to the residents there existed from colonial times when half-baked efforts were considered unethical.

Perhaps that’s why occasionally people opted the Boultan Market spot to vent their feelings. For example, on Jan 21, the All Pakistan Kashmir Committee organised a silent demonstration against aspects of the peace accord reached between India and Pakistan in front of the New Memon Mosque. Demonstrators stood before the main gate of the mosque with placards in their hands which read ‘Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris’. Indeed.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2016