PTI lawmakers assail Nishtar, say Ehsaas benefiting opponents

Updated November 22, 2019

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Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar is heading PTI's Ehsaas programme. — DawnNewsTV/File
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar is heading PTI's Ehsaas programme. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers at a recent meeting of the party’s parliamentary committee, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, expressed reservations over the government’s flagship programme — Ehsaas — and lamented that little relief was being given to workers and voters of the ruling party under it.

The lawmakers told the prime minister that the programme was mainly benefiting the workers and voters of opposition parties, informed sources told Dawn.

They criticised the performance of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar and said she should do something practical instead of doing just paperwork or carrying out surveys.

The sources said the lawmakers did not give Ms Nishtar a chance to present her viewpoint on the issue and made her so depressed that she broke into tears and was about to leave the meeting when the prime minister intervened and asked other participants of the meeting to let Ms Nishtar explain her position on the matter.

When contacted, Ms Nishtar told Dawn that she had been put under tremendous pressure during the meeting of the PTI parliamentary committee and had to face a volley of allegations.

She said she apprised the meeting that no doubt benefits of the Ehsaas programme might have been availed by the supporters and workers of opposition parties because these benefits were being given to holders of cards issued under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in 2009.

The BISP was launched by the Pakistan Peoples Party government and monthly monetary assistance cards were issued on the basis of a poverty survey.

Ms Nishtar said the BISP programme was now a component of the Ehsaas programme. “As no new survey was conducted, we were compelled to give relief to the people covered under the 2009 survey carried out by the BISP, but now a new survey is being done under the Ehsaas programme which will be completed in a month or two,” she added.

“Once the new survey is completed it will provide relief to all those who were earlier not covered by the BISP,” she said.

“Last year, the total allocation of funds for Ehsaas programme was Rs120 billion, but for the current fiscal year the government has increased the amount to Rs190bn. Over 134 different public welfare initiatives will be covered under the Ehsaas programme, including health, education, communication, railways, food security, service sector and transportation,” she said.

The fresh survey being conducted under the Ehsaas programme is said to be so comprehensive that if it is certified or accepted by the government, there will be no need to go for a hectic country-wide census exercise.

“The survey is so comprehensive that it will provide information not only about each and every household and the number of people, but even the number of electronic goods like TVs, LCDs, fridges, washing machines and other household items in each house,” said an official of the BISP engaged in conducting the fresh survey.

Ms Nishtar said that for improved beneficiary targeting mechanism, the BISP was also developing a new 2019 National Socioeconomic Registry to correctly and precisely indentify the real poor.

“It will also be converted into live registry through a combination of follow-up review surveys, a process of self-registration, grievance redressal and the use of data analytics,” she added.

The registry will be transparent and will have a well-defined updating procedure and will form One-Window Ehsaas and will be linked with all social protection initiatives so that benefit given to a specific household through multiple programmes could be tracked.

The procedure for identifying and including and excluding a beneficiary will be clearly laid out in the National Socioeconomic Data Policy.

According to Ehsaas strategy, the government envisages Pakistan to be a welfare state based on principles of Islamic ideology similar to those put in place by holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Madina.

Ehsaas is said to be an overreaching coordinated whole-of-government um­brella initiative with basic objectives to address the elite culture and make the government system work for equality of opportunity, provide effective and comprehensive safety nets for the marginalised and vulnerable, create livelihood and jobs for the poor, invest in people for human capital formation and lift poor areas.

Basic goals of Ehsaas include safety nets for at least 10 million families, livelihood opportunities for 3.8m individuals, financial access to healthcare for 10m families, scholarship and education incentives for 5m students (50 per cent girls), financial and digital inclusion for 7m individuals (90pc women), enabling environment for poverty reduction and equality promoting multi-social sectors partnership and innovations.

Ms Nishtar said that 34 agencies of the federal government and all federating units had been tasked with implementing Ehsaas and every department has to come up with some incentives for the common man.

Asked as to how she monitored the performance of federating units and ministries and guided them for the programme despite the fact that they were all working independently and not answerable to her, Ms Nishtar said: “In fact Prime Minister Imran Khan is the driving force behind Ehsaas and he himself will monitor the performance of the departments concerned and guide them.”

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019