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IT was budget-time in the city by the sea. On June 19, 1967 Chairman of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) Parvez Ahmed Butt presented the annual budget for 1967-68 before the council. The proposal showed a ‘jump’ of Rs20 million over the revised estimates for the (then) current financial year. Presenting the budget the chairman claimed that the next year’s proposals would be a milestone in the history of the corporation. He said the KMC had now adopted the octroi system instead of the terminal tax one. At the same time, efforts were being made to come up with a new formula for water and conservancy taxes, which, he asserted, were more ‘realistic’.

It is pertinent in present-day context to discuss the powers that the KMC had at the time because these days we hear a great deal of brouhaha about the depleted resources that the city’s administrative units have to work with. It would be interesting to note one more thing that happened in the 1967 budget session which might have relevance to the sociopolitical drifts that 21st century Karachi has come to be known for. That day the municipal budget was also circulated in Urdu to the corporation’s members. It came under sharp criticism from the Urdu-speaking members of the house, according to whom, the ‘high-flown’ language of the document had not only made it difficult to follow but had made it unintelligible with its ad-hoc coinage of terms. One member after another stood up saying such ‘amateurish experiments’ in coining phrases was no service to the language. As a result, it was decided that a revised edition of the budget would be in simpler Urdu, with standard terms and phrases. Wow! Even time and tide can’t have any effect on certain issues.

Mind you, time was (can’t say if it still is) something that Karachi’s benefactors (of colonial times) attached great importance to, which is why they built quite a few clock towers in the city. Over the years, especially after independence, the towers suffered a lot of wear and tear. On June 24, as part of continuation of its fiscal plan, the KMC made a provision of Rs15,000 in the next year’s budget for the repairs of a dozen municipal clock towers, which, the house was told, had become too old, some had outlived their age, and only a ‘few gave correct time’. The corporation had been providing funds for the repairs since 1962, but media reports suggested not a single penny was spent on that count. The reason given for not utilising the funds was non-allocation of foreign exchange required to import the essential spares. The KMC had intended to approach the government once again. The oldest clock tower in the city was, and still is, the 102-foot-high Merewether Tower, constructed in 1892.

On June 25, the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) also publicised what it wanted to repair. Well, the authority decided to build a three-foot-wide pavement all along the Clifton sea-wall to save the wall from the water splashed on to it by the waves, seeping through its foundation. Work on the scheme was to start as soon as the sea calmed down after the monsoon season.

If this was the level of considerateness of the city authorities to keep Karachi’s integrity intact in tangible terms, then things weren’t too bad in intangible terms either. On June 24, it was announced that the divisional commissioner had constituted a nine-member sub-committee, headed by Zafar Hussain, deputy director general of Radio Pakistan Karachi, to chalk out an elaborate programme to encourage local writers and poets to produce poems and songs on the following themes: grow more food, need for a strong centre, observance of Islamic norms in daily life, family planning, national integration and importance of basic democracies. Sounds familiar? It does.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2017