'Ehsas': PM Khan launches ambitious social safety, poverty alleviation programme

Updated March 27, 2019

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Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a ceremony to launch the 'Ehsas' social safety programme in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a ceremony to launch the 'Ehsas' social safety programme in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday launched an ambitious social safety and poverty alleviation programme for the welfare of the public.

Speaking at a ceremony in Islamabad to kick off the programme, named 'Ehsas' (compassion), the premier 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.

But the provision in its current form is only a policy recommendation, Khan noted, saying that 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.

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"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 is their fundamental right.

Khan said under the programme, the money spent on underprivileged segments of society would be increased by Rs80 billion, and further by Rs120bn by 2020.

"No government has so far spent so much money on poverty alleviation," the premier claimed.

'One-window operation'

He announced that a new ministry for social protection and poverty alleviation was being set up which would work on the coordination of the programme's implementation throughout Pakistan.

The move is aimed at bringing all organisations that are working on helping the poor under one umbrella, Khan said, noting that until now different groups were functioning separately without any coordination between their efforts.

The prime minister announced that in the first phase, a database would be set up by December under which the government will know about people's income levels as well as how many indigent citizens were residing in each area.

"Once this data comes, we will coordinate all the organisations from one place," he said.

Khan 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".

Prime Minister Khan 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.

'Tahafuz' programme

Khan 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," Khan 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, Khan said, call centres will be set up to provide legal assistance to people as well as grants to children who 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.

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.

The premier said that street children would be assisted through public-private partnerships as will be transgender persons who often suffer maltreatment in the society.

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.

He announced that Bait-ul-Maal would be funded to build homes for 10,000 orphan children in the next four years.

Terming stunted growth a "big issue" for Pakistan, the prime minister said a set of nine policies has been created to address nutrition problems. He also highlighted the need for the provision of deworming, iron, folic acid, as well as anemia supplements at basic health units.

He announced that for the first time a "multi-sectoral nutrition coordination body" will be constituted at the Prime Minister's Office.

In connection with this, he said the government had 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.

Khan said women in villages needed to be provided with goats so that they and their children can have access to milk, as well as with desi chickens.

"Many people in cities don't have an idea [but] this is a tried and tested model in the whole world," the prime minister said, stressing that in order to provide poor people nutrition and increase their earnings they should be provided with goats and chickens.

Additionally, he said women in villages will be provided seeds to grow vegetables to eat and to sell. He said edible oil companies will be asked to give them seed packages as well.

"These are the small things that make a big difference," he told an exuberant audience.

"The things I am telling you are cheap things. A country that doesn't have money uses their brain," the premier added.

He also promised that persons with disabilities would be given facilities such as special sticks, wheelchairs, crutches and whatever equipment they may require.

He announced that 20 centres would be opened for persons with disabilities in the underdeveloped districts.

Among other measures meant for the socio-economic uplift of the people, the prime minister announced that Rs5bn had been allocated as interest-free loans for those who were too poor to build houses.

With regards to pensioners, the premier said they had decided to increase the EOBI pensions and were using a biometric system to avoid corruption.

Additionally, Bait-ul-Maal will make five 'Ehsas' homes for elderly folk, which will then be extended as funding comes in.

He said that students from underdeveloped areas will be informed of their constitutional right to receive an education and wherever there are no government schools the children will be given vouchers so that they can attend private schools. Students in remote areas will also be provided internet service and mobile phones so that they can benefit from e-learning.

According to the prime minister, a total of Rs3bn will be provided for higher education in districts that are underdeveloped.

Support for overseas Pakistanis and farmers

Discussing the facilities to be provided to the labourers and working class that resides abroad for work, Prime Minister Khan said all embassies in other countries would have community welfare attachés who would cater specifically to the needs of overseas Pakistanis.

Secondly, there will be more immigration staff to help labourers regarding their rights and to ensure that they are not misused. There will also be a one-window facility to ensure that labourers who wanted to go abroad did not face difficulties.

Khan noted that the working-class segment is often unable to return to Pakistan because they cannot afford the plane ticket. In this regard, he said they will now be provided "special fares tickets" so that they can return home.

The premier announced that the government has developed a complete agriculture policy for farmers in villages, which will be shared with the public soon.

"The whole effort is so that the small farmer gets the benefit," he stressed, adding that they were making a plan of cooperatives for small land holdings, which China had done when it lifted people out of poverty.

Labourers to be brought into formal sector

The prime minister in his speech regretted that the safety nets meant for the protection of labourers were not implemented in the country.

He although labourers in villages, those working in the informal sector or in people's houses previously had no rights, they will now all be brought into the formal sector and their exploitation will be ended.

Additionally, a database and pension scheme will be introduced for them.

The premier recalled that people are surveyed and provided cash under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

"Now we think people should be elevated above cash payments and should be provided skills and given things that can help create cash," Khan said.

As part of the plan, he revealed that a total of Rs50bn have been placed in the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and the National Poverty Graduation Programme.