Imran launches ambitious scheme to reduce poverty

March 28, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the ceremony held on Wednesday to launch the Poverty Alleviation Programme ‘Ehsaas’.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the ceremony held on Wednesday to launch the Poverty Alleviation Programme ‘Ehsaas’.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday launched an ambitious social safety and poverty alleviation programme ‘Ehsaas’ for the welfare of poor and downtrodden segments of society with a special focus on empowerment of women.

Speaking at the launching ceremony of the programme at the Jinnah Convention Centre, the prime minister declared that his government wanted to change the Constitution in order to ensure provision of food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief to all the citizens without any discrimination by the state considering them as their “fundamental rights”.

Referring to Article 38(D) of the Constitution titled “promotion of social and economic well-being of the people”, he vowed to include the five above-mentioned basic necessities in the list of fundamental rights as enshrined in Chapter One of the Constitution. According to Mr Khan, this change would give right to the people to take the government to courts upon its failure to provide them these basic amenities.

• Amendment to Constitution planned to make provision of food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief fundamental right • New ministry of poverty alleviation to be created • Economic empowerment of women through ‘one woman one bank account plan’

Highlighting salient features of the programme amid sloganeering by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf activists, the prime minister said the government had decided to allocate Rs80 billion for the well-being of the underprivileged segments of society and it would be increased to Rs120bn next year.

Mr Khan also announced setting up of a new ministry for poverty alleviation aimed at increasing coordination among all organisations and departments presently working for the welfare of the poor and providing them financial and other aids.

He said that presently a number of organisations such as Baitul Maal, Poverty Alleviation Council, Benazir Income Support Programme and Zakat councils were working in the country, but there had been no coordination among them. He said Baitul Maal would construct 10,000 sweet homes for orphans and five homes for old people over the next four years.

Regretting that presently no precise data about poverty was available, Mr Khan said his government would launch a new survey which would be completed by December. “We will launch new survey of poverty to identify poor and poverty-stricken areas in the country. The survey will be completed by December end and we will have computerised record and the government will provide them service and monetary assistance.”

The government, he said, would provide mobile phones to 5.7 million women and enable them to open and operate their saving accounts in banks. He said the government had also decided to provide free legal assistance to those who could not afford fees for court cases.

In order to make the people self-reliant, he said a fixed proportion on state lands would be allocated for the people so that they could establish kiosk/café to make ends meet. Besides this, he added, the poor would have a share in auctions of shops in a town and tehsil committees.

“Every ministry has been directed to develop pro-poor goals and measureable indicators. Welfare of transgender, street children, bonded labour and daily wagers will also be on top priority of the government under ‘Ehsaas’ programme,” he said.

The prime minister also announced setting up of a Rs5 billion fund to provide interest-free loans to the poor for construction of their houses. “We will start construction of five million houses from April and we will give joint ownership of these houses to spouses in this government-supported housing scheme,” he said.

Vowing to improve implementation of labour laws in the country, the prime minister announced a number of special measures for labourers, including an increase in pension through EOBI (Employees Old-Age Benefit Institute) from Rs5,200 to Rs6,500. Without elaborating, he said the pension would also be paid the workers of informal sector like housemaids and other workers.

He said 40 microfinance companies in the country having Rs400bn would be directed through the State Bank of Pakistan to help people start their own businesses. He said the government would facilitate technology innovation by enhancing broadband internet services and basic telephony to almost 12,000 villages in 45 districts and this would give benefit to 30 million people.

“E-learning and television-based education will be launched after this connectivity of broadband and internet for the education of the people,” he said and added that the people in remote areas would be provided vouchers for getting education in private schools.

He said the government would provide technical education to labourers who wanted to go abroad where they would get a three-year contract instead of one year. Terming malnutrition and stunting among children a major problem for the country, the prime minister vowed to resolve the issue through its inclusion in the new programme.

He said the government had a plan to provide goats and hens to widows living in villages, which would not only help them earn money, but would also overcome the issues being faced by them due to malnutrition. Besides this, kitchen garden would also be promoted in villages and free of cost seeds would be provided to the people, he said.

Referring to a survey which revealed that more than 75 per cent of milk being supplied to main cities was a mixture of washing powder and chemicals, the prime minister said they were starting a plan to improve milk supply initially in Islamabad and Lahore.

He also announced setting up of 20 centres for persons with disabilities, where they would also be provided wheelchairs and other equipment.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, Poverty Alleviation Coordination Council chairperson Dr Sania Nishtar said the plan was about equality and opportunity for all and it was about lifting lagging areas and leaving no one behind. She said they wanted to invest in human capital, educate girls and give economic empowerment to millions of women.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2019