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HERE is an interesting action-packed news item from 1967 which might sound like the storyline of a Hollywood film. Well, it is not. It’s a true story. Our customs authorities in the past worked with missionary zeal to keep our maritime borders free of unlawful activities. Perhaps they still do, but we don’t get to hear the stories of their valiant acts in the media as much.

In the last week of May, the customs department received a piece of information that a motor launch carrying 60,000 tolas of gold had left Dubai and was heading towards Karachi. The department deployed 40 officers and a large number of men, including 20 armed sepoys, to keep a vigil along the coast. On May 30, the Customs officials claimed that it had made a Rs1 crore gold haul –– the largest ever catch in the history of the region –– from the sea, 80 miles off Karachi. (Upon sensing that they’re going to be caught, the smugglers had thrown jackets-full of gold into the choppy waters of the sea). Diving officer Ijazur Rehman of the Customs Preventive Staff dived into the bottom of the sea six times, bringing out half a dozen jackets full of gold weighing 7,000 tolas. The department then requisitioned the services of six Pakistan Navy men to resume diving for gold to bring out the remaining 53 jackets.

Another thing that was worth weighing in gold that week was the artworks made by one of Pakistan’s leading painters Jamil Naqsh that went on display at the Arts Council on May 29. The theme of the paintings on view was pigeons and human figures, done predominantly in white and transparent blue. The sense of depth that the artist managed to convey by using just two colours, both of which are difficult to handle when it comes to depicting depth, was proof of his tremendous skillfulness. Pigeons and human figures were the two recurrent motifs in the artist’s creative output all his life.

If on the one hand humans were being appreciated on the canvas, on the other hand efforts were being made to keep a check on the rapid increase in their number –– the reference is to population boom. On June 2, a two-day seminar on ‘population problems in economic development of Pakistan’ was held in the city under the auspices of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. Minister for Education, Health, Labour and Social Welfare Kazi Anwarul Haque inaugurated the event. In his address he said that having ‘planned’ smaller families was important for raising citizens’ standard of living. Highlighting the dangers of population growth, he said the government had made family planning a national objective, and a Rs28.4 crore programme had been formulated to bring down the birth rate.

But then it wasn’t the only issue local authorities were trying to grapple with. The problem of unauthorised housing was also giving them a headache. On June 1, it was announced that the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) would engage private architects and town planners to prepare a layout plan for unauthorised colonies in the city. One of the hurdles in regulating the colonies had been the absence of proper layout plans. The job was originally entrusted to the Karachi Development Authority but was afterwards transferred to the KMC. Ah, these old rivalries.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2017