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THE restoration and expansion of buildings constructed in colonial times in Karachi is not something that town planners started to think about at the turn of the 21st century. It had already begun in the 1960s. There was a reason for it. The city was slowly but surely turning into a megalopolis, with an ever-increasing traffic load on the roads resulting in environmental pollution. This meant that there were buildings that needed to be preserved and at the same time there were some structures to which additions were needed, because they served as office blocks run by the government.

On June 8, 1967 it was announced that the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) was looking for masons who could carve a fencing of red Jodhpur stones for the expansion of its red-stone building on Bunder Road (now M. A. Jinnah Road). The corporation intended to build a large committee room (40 square feet) on the roof of a section of its building occupied by a bank. Plans for constructing the room were delayed because of non-availability of red Jodhpur stones. Eventually, a contractor was able to salvage the stones from a recently demolished building and sold them to the corporation. Hence, the search for masons!

The KMC’s wasn’t the only building that was being considered for a relook. On June 11, over a dozen landlords of dilapidated buildings in Bohri Bazaar proposed to the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) to undertake the second phase of the Bohri Bazaar Redevelopment Scheme. Here, it needs to be mentioned that in the first phase the authority had built blocks in one sector of the popular shopping centre in place of the ramshackle structures that got burnt in the horrific 1956 fire. The new proposal was to do with the adjacent sector south-east of the new buildings. The landlords offered to rebuild the entire area themselves as per the KDA’s prescribed plan. The remaining buildings were to be demolished and rebuilt in the third phase. The scheme was being undertaken at a cost of Rs100 million.

The issue of fires breaking out, especially in summer, to date gives nightmares to the civic authorities. To be fair to them, they keep trying to come up with measures to preempt or control the problem. On June 8, a new fire station opened in Nazimabad. Demonstrating their skills and displaying the latest equipment available to them, firemen started a blaze only to put it out to mark the opening of what was then considered Karachi’s most modern fire station. In the demonstration, in the blink of an eye, a couple of firemen set two huge blazes in pits made for training purposes. The fire raged in no time, with the smoke and flames rising 20 feet high. Then two fire engines and an ambulance came racing to the scene, their sirens renting the air. The firemen jumped off their vehicles with alacrity and went about their job in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. They unrolled water hoses, rushed to the place that was set ablaze, and doused the fire in less than a minute. Wow! Karachi could do with such agile fire tenders in 2017.

What Karachi could also do with was ‘genuine doctors’. Nowadays we hear a lot about quacks playing with people’s lives. Fifty years back things were equally bad. On June 6, records of the only dental clinic of the KMC were published by this newspaper according to which, quacks with fake degrees throughout the city were responsible for complicating more than 50 per cent tooth extraction cases undertaken in the previous 30 months. The clinic’s register showed that nearly 10,000 teeth had been pulled out in the period and more than half of them were complicated cases. Sad.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2017