Pakistan rolls out largest social assistance programme in history; will distribute Rs 144 billion among 120 Mn needy people

Rs12,000 four-month stipend among the families of poor and daily-wage earners

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday formally launched the Rs144 billion Ehsaas Relief Programme and a sum of Rs5 0bn was given to banks for distribution of Rs12,000 four-month stipend among the families of poor and daily-wage earners who have been hit hard by the lockdown across the country due to coronavirus.

On the first day of cash distribution, 40 million people [out of 120m] received text messages (SMS) for collection of the amount from 17,000 branches of two designated banks — Habib Bank Limited and Bank Al-Falah — and 3,000 camp sites established with the assistance of the provincial governments.

“Today Prime Minister Imran Khan formally launched Ehsaas cash emergency programme to provide Rs12,000 to 12m families and for that Rs144bn has been allocated,” Special Assistant to the Prime Min­ister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a press conference.

Besides this, she added, an amount of Rs2.5bn as Ramazan package for the poor had been given to the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) for providing 19 consumer items at subsidised rates.

The package last year was Rs1.5bn for subsidy on five essential items.

Meanwhile, SAPM on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar, who is supervising the Ehsaas cash distribution programme, told Dawn that her department had given Rs49.2bn to the banks for distribution of Rs12,000 each for four months among poor families. “However, I am not aware how many people obtained cash from banks on the first day [Thursday] as data in this regard will be shared by the banks from today [Friday],” she added.

Dr Nishtar said that although the government had planned to complete the cash distribution process in two-and-a-half weeks, it might prolong because the process depended till what time people would draw the cash from the banks. “Thus the whole process may take three to four weeks to complete,” she added.

Responding to a question about the concern expressed by some provinces that 17,000 branches of banks are insufficient to cater for 120 million people and a chaos-like situation may create outside the banks when people will throng cash distribution points, the SAPM said necessary measures were being taken to avoid people’s clusters outside the banks and provide them proper coronavirus preventive facilities like masks, hand washing, chairs for sitting with specific distance, disinfection, etc.

“We are giving staggered payments to the eligible people. For instance, out of all deserving people of an area/bank, only 20 per cent of them are called in a day for cash withdrawal to avoid crowed,” she added.

Besides branches of banks, Dr Nishtar said, 3,000 camps were being established all over the country with the help of the provincial governments and each camp had several booths for cash collection. “For example, a school, which has been turned into a camp, has 10 different booths for payments,” she added.

At the press conference with USC Managing Director Umar Lodhi, SAPM Awan said the focus of government policies was on providing relief to the general public, especially the poor and deserving segments of society, adding that the present government would stand by the masses during this difficult juncture.

She said the government was taking maximum steps to control the spread of coronavirus in the country with the assistance of the provincial governments and other stakeholders.

Dr Awan said that earlier subsidy had been given on five items under the Ramazan relief package, but now 19 items would be available at utility stores on discounted rates. She said the Rs2.5bn package could be increased to Rs7bn as per requirement.

She said that under the prime minister’s relief package, Rs10bn had been allocated for the USC to ensure availability of daily-use items at affordable rates.

Replying to a question, she said a PM’s Corona Welfare Fund was being launched to look after the vulnerable segments of society.

She said government policies were being reviewed regularly at meetings of the National Coordination Committee, headed by the prime minister, and strategy for relief could be modified when deemed necessary.

(Published in Dawn Newspaper)

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