KARACHI: Distribution of rations and other relief goods have become highly politicised in the province as political parties are criticising each other for the sake of point scoring.
According to witnesses and officials, political infighting and favouritism have severely affected the relief activities in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.
A security official, who wished not to be named, told Dawn that the prime minister’s Ehsas social safety programme had become ‘highly politicised’ as rival political parties using it ostensibly for some political gains.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders claimed that the programme belonged to them while Pakistan Peoples Party leaders insisted that it was the same Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) under which several monthly instalments were being given to the poorest of the poor.
At certain places in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, people with strong political connections had virtually hijacked the distribution of cash among poor women.
Each deputy commissioner gets Rs40m for ration distribution; many fail to get benefit from Ehsas programme due to tough criteria
The officer recalled that in district South a known political figure linked to the PTI insisted that his supporters/voters should be given cash. Same was the situation witnessed in rural areas of the province.
Thus, the cash distribution among the poor under Ehsas programme was increasingly becoming a new source of ‘political infighting’.
The second issue pertained to alleged favouritism in the distribution of ration bags as the chairmen of union committees/councils, who were supposed to look after the distribution process, were openly accusing that the ruling parties had been ignoring poor residents belonging to other parties.
Recently, several UC chairmen of district West had openly criticised the Sindh government over ration distribution. These UC chairmen are affiliated with different political parties including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan.
During a recent press conference, they alleged that the PPP-led Sindh government was allegedly ignoring them during the process of distribution of rations. They said that it was being done on favouritism by violating their mandate.
They pointed out that the provincial government had already announced that rations would be distributed through the UC chairmen for which a committee had already been constituted.
The UC chairmen said that they had already written a letter to the Sindh chief secretary around 12 days ago and raised their concerns over the issue of ration distribution.
Criteria of Ehsas programme criticised
Jamil Khan, a social activist of Keamari, told Dawn that the chairman of UC-3 Keamari had distributed 170 ration bags among the poor in his area. He opined that as the handout was ‘insufficient’ because a large number of the poor lived in the locality, philanthropists launched relief activities at a much big scale in the area.
He said that the Jaffaria Disaster Cell (JDC) on April 17 had set up its first centre in Keamari and they distributed rations among 40 poor families on Saturday. The JDC planned to distribute rations among 40 families on a daily basis, he added.
Dawa Khan Sabir, vice chairman of Metroville UC, pointed out that there were estimated 16,000 poor/beneficiaries of Ehsas/BISP programme in SITE and Orangi Town and 11,000 of them had received cash under the social safety programme.
Regarding distribution of rations, Mr Sabir said that the DC-West had called a meeting of UC chairmen around one week ago and intended to give 40 ration bags to each UC chairman. He said that the UC chairmen refused to take the bags stating that such a small quantity was not sufficient even for residents of a single Ward.
He also claimed that philanthropists intervened in helping the poor and they were providing cooked food to around 300 families on a daily basis in the said areas. He disclosed that the philanthropists now planned to increase the number of families from 300 to 400 by providing them cooked food.
Ikram, a social activist in the Landhi area, said that the Ehsas programme should be named as ‘Ghair Ehsas’ (without compassion) as its mechanism or eligibility criteria was extremely wrong.
He said that there were estimated 50 private schoolteachers in Muzafarabad Colony, Majeed Colony, Sherpao Colony and Gul Ahmed area of Landhi and Quaidabad, who were allegedly not being given their salary by school administration due to closure of educational institutes, could not get benefit from the Ehsas programme since they used internet beyond the criteria for beneficiaries of the programme.
He said that around 700 daily wage earners, who used to work in industrial areas of Landhi/Quaidabad and they had been rendered jobless because of the continued lockdown, could not benefit from the Ehsas programme because they had bank accounts.
He opined that the provision of rations was also not sufficient as only 150 bags were provided to the poor residents of Muzaffarabad Colony despite the fact that thousands of the poor, mostly labourers and factory workers, lived there.
PPP denies charges
However, senior PPP leader and Chief Minister’s aide Waqar Mehdi, denied charges of favouritism in distribution of rations.
He said that a six-member committee comprising representatives of deputy commissioner, UC chairman concerned (irrespective of his/her party affiliation), NGO, lady councillor/social activist, notable of the area and local zakat committee chairman had been formed for distribution of rations among the deserving persons.
He said as per government policy, they avoided social distancing and tended to distribute rations among the poor between 3am and 7am at people’s doorsteps in the presence of assistant commissioner concerned, police and Rangers.
Mr Mehdi said that Rs40 million had been provided to each DC in the Sindh province for distribution of ration bags, which contained flour, rice, pulses, oil, teabags, etc.
One bag being provided to each family of five was sufficient for 15 days, he said, adding that 300-400 bags were being distributed for each UC and the supply of food was continued.
He said so far around 275,000 ration bags had been distributed among the needy across Sindh. He said that this help was not for government employees, beneficiaries of zakat/BISP programme.
He claimed that the government had adopted ‘transparency’ during distribution of rations and if there were any complaints, the same were being addressed by a ‘monitoring committee’ led by provincial minister Imtiaz Shaikh.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2020