PRIME Minister Imran Khan, on Wednesday, launched ‘Ahsas’ (compassion) and ‘Tahaffuz’ (safety) – two social safety and poverty alleviation programme for the welfare of the people. Speaking at a ceremony in Islamabad to kick off the programmes he said the first change that would be brought under the poverty alleviation plan would be amending Article 38(D) of the Constitution which included a clause regarding providing people with food, shelter, clothing, education and taking care of their health.
The programmes announced by the Prime Minister are surely ambitious and have the potential to transform the lot of the poor. The lower segment of the society has been hit hard by the rising inflation and there was definitely need for some effective mechanism to ensure that they too could lead an honourable life. It is duty and responsibility of the State to take care of the vulnerable sections of society and more so in a country that claims to have been created in the name of Islam. The Prime Minister has announced creation of a full-fledged Ministry of Social Protection & Poverty Alleviation, incremental increase in allocations for poverty alleviation programme, enhancement of stipend for beneficiaries and creation of a database to know about income levels of people in different areas. We already have one of the biggest social protection programme – Benazir Income Support Programme with over one hundred billion rupee allocations and hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries. It is not yet known whether BISP has been renamed as ‘Ahsas’ or a new programme is being launched. Renaming and creation of a separate ministry or paraphernalia would hardly serve any additional purpose except increase in overhead expenses. A separate programme would also be meaningless in the presence of an elaborate programme like BISP that has earned laurels from international donors, some of them are also coordinating with it in the task of poverty alleviation.
There is, however, definitely need for a fresh and reliable survey to identify the really deserving people in the backdrop of reports that the procedure adopted for identification of beneficiaries under BISP was seriously flawed. We have also been emphasizing that doling out huge cash amounts in the name of poverty alleviation would not help realize the objective of poverty reduction until and unless the identified families are assisted to stand on their own feet economically and financially. Similarly, several poverty alleviation programmes were running under the aegis of both the federal and provincial governments and introduction of proposed one-window operation would not only facilitate the beneficiaries and poor effectively but also could result in saving and better service delivery. ‘Tahaffuz’ programme also has potential to promote welfare and safeguard rights of women, which are considered to be under-privileged in a male-dominates society. Under the programme, call centres will be set up to provide legal assistance to people as well as grants to children who want to study. Presently, many people who are wronged do not approach the police or courts due to ignorance about their rights and financial constraints and provision of free legal assistance would help provide them justice.
The Prime Minister announced that nearly 5.7 million women will be given savings accounts and mobile phones through which they will be able to access their bank accounts adding that the cash transfers to the women will be increased from Rs 5,000 to Rs 5,500. Though the Prime Minister did not elaborate but it is hoped that the amount of Rs 5,500 would be disbursed every month and this would contribute significantly in alleviating financial woes of the poor families. It will also be a step in furtherance of empowerment of women, which is one of the fundamental commitments of the PTI government. Creation of 500 digital hubs at Tehsil level would facilitate these women to access their bank accounts as well as to look for jobs. It is, perhaps, for the first time that a programme for building homes for ten thousand orphans is being introduced, which would go a long way in their effective rehabilitation. Additionally, a “movement” for children forced to work under bonded labour would be started and daily wage workers would also be facilitated through the Tahafuz programme. In order to address the problem of stunted growth, the government has decided to start an experiment, starting with Islamabad and Lahore, to regulate the quality of milk and to ensure the availability of the right milk for everyone. If successfully implemented, this one step would help improve the state of health of the people in a significant manner.