–Imran says Rs80bn ‘Ehsas’ programme will ensure provision of food, shelter, education and health to citizens as fundamental right
–Database containing income details of citizens to be launched by December
–Also announces ‘Tahafuz’ programme to help people in difficult times by providing them with legal aid
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday launched ‘Ehsas’ (compassion), an Rs80 billion ambitious social safety and poverty alleviation programme aimed at the downtrodden people with food, shelter, clothing, education and taking care of their health.
Speaking at a ceremony in Islamabad to kick off the programme, the premier said the first change that would be brought under the poverty alleviation plan would be amending Article 38(D) of the Constitution from the “Principles of Policy” section into the “Fundamental Rights” section, making it a fundamental right for all citizens to be given food, shelter, education and health facilities by the State.
The prime minister noted that the provision in its current form is only a policy recommendation as the government would need to bring an amendment in the Constitution and make it a “fundamental right” so the State can guarantee these five things to the people of Pakistan.
“This is the first step, it is a difficult task,” the premier said, adding that the government was putting the pressure on itself so that anyone will be able to go to the courts and say that this was their fundamental right.
He said that the government would allocate an additional amount of Rs80 billion in the country’s social protection spending in backward areas from the current year, which would be raised to Rs 120 billion in 2021.
The prime minister also announced the establishment of a new Ministry of Social Protection/Poverty Alleviation to address the current fragmentation. Various institutions like the BISP, PBM, Zakat and PPAF would be working under that ministry, which would develop a one-window operation for social protection of the poor and to facilitate citizens, he added.
He said that the purpose of this move is to bring all organisations which are currently working on the same agenda under one umbrella as there is little or no coordination between these organisations.
The prime minister said that since 25 per cent to 40 per cent people in Pakistan were suffering from poverty, the government is working on a database containing the income levels of the people and the number of indigent citizens residing in a particular area. “Once this data comes, we will coordinate all the organisations from one place,” he said. The prime minister added that everything will be made computerised using information technology and they would know which organisation is helping poor people in which area.
“We will run the poverty alleviation campaign in the country from one place,” he said, adding that people from one area would be served under a “one-window operation”.
He also revealed that the government was conducting a new survey — which would be completed by December — on the basis of which people would be given financial aid. Until then, money will be distributed on the basis of a previous survey. Pakistan, the prime minister added, was one of the countries which collected the least amount of tax; yet it was among the top five for donations.
PM Khan said that under the programme, the government would increase the state’s spending on underprivileged segments of the society from Rs80 billion to Rs120 billion by 2020.
“No government has so far spent so much money on poverty alleviation,” he said. He said the state would take steps to ensure all marginalised groups are protected, and will also roll out strategies to alleviate poverty in rural areas of the country. “In the next four years the Baitul Maal must provide shelter for 10,000 orphaned children,” he said.
The PM said nine policies were formed for nutrition to bring an end to stunted growth, adding that sanitation and clean water were essential to stop stunted growth in children. “It is worrying to see how contaminated milk is being sold in different parts of the country,” he said.
Imran also 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.
“This will be the most transparent way to give them their money,” he said, adding that the cash transfers to the women will be increased from Rs5,000 to Rs5,500.
Additionally, 500 digital hubs were being created in tehsils where the prime minister said poor people could go to access their bank accounts as well as to look for jobs.
“We will not just give them money, we will give them opportunities so that they can improve their lives,” PM Imran emphasised.
The premier then announced the ‘Tahafuz’ (protection) programme which would help people in difficult times by providing them with legal aid.
Once legislation regarding the programme is completed, Imran Khan said, call centres will be set up to provide legal assistance to people as well as grants to children to want to study.
In addition, anyone who does not already have the Insaf health card will be able to call the Tahafuz programme office and the money will be organised for them.
Widows without any source of income will also be in the database and assisted by the programme, the premier said.
Similarly, he said, a kitchen gardening initiative would also be introduced where subsidised certified seed and seedlings would be promoted both through the entrepreneurial model as well as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
The prime minister, besides urging the edible oil companies to give seed packets along with oil cans, also directed the Utility Stores to do likewise, as such small things used to make a difference.
He regretted that during the last ten years of democracy the country’s debt swelled to Rs30,000 billion from Rs6,000 billion. Rs6 billion was spent per day as the interest of those loans, he added.
While on the subject of social safety, Prime Minister Khan disclosed that the government was not spending any money on the shelter homes it had set up in Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, as people were coming forward themselves and donating money.
“It is the first time that such a programme is coming to Pakistan. You will remember the day we launched this programme the day [Pakistan] becomes a great country,” he said with confidence.