Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Dr Sania Nishtar addressing a press conference.—APP
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Dr Sania Nishtar addressing a press conference.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Amid adverse impact of the coronavirus on the poor and people belonging to low-income groups, the government has decided to enhance the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme from Rs144 billion to Rs203bn.

Under the first phase of the programme [of Rs144 billion] 12 million families were provided four-month stipend of Rs12,000. Now with the increase in its funds the programme will facilitate around 17m families.

“It means that almost half of the population of the country will be covered under the programme,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Safety and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar at a press conference on Thursday.

“The scope of emergency cash programme has been expanded to reach out to around 16.9 million deserving families with the increased budget of Rs203 billion,” she added.

Emergency cash programme will facilitate 17 million families

Accompanied by Information Minister Shibli Faraz, the SAPM said initially the programme was launched on April 9 with a budget of Rs144 billion for 12 million beneficiaries.

She, however, said 12.86 million beneficiaries across the country had so far received one-time cash assistance of Rs155.64bn through emergency cash initiative as in addition to Rs144bn over Rs10bn was distributed through other resources, including the Prime Minister Corona Fund.

“The government’s largest social protection programme, Ehsaas, has taken the lead in radically expanding social safety nets to help mitigate effects of Covid-19 within Pakistan,” she added.

Terming the programme a big success of the government, she said the programme was fully transparent, rule and merit based, and apolitical. “Sindh gains the most from this programme which shows its apolitical nature,” she said while giving an indirect reply to the allegation made by the ruling party in Sindh, Pakistan Peoples Party, that the province had been ignored and its people had not benefited from the scheme.

She said as compared to initiatives taken in other countries, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme gained international recognition for disbursing in time cash assistance in a well organised manner and at a larger scale.

Dr Nishtar said digital capabilities developed over the past year as part of the Ehsaas strategy had positively been adopted in making emergency cash payments.

“Requests were sought through an SMS short code service; data analytics enabled eligibility ascertainment, using unique national identification numbers and drawing on the National Socioeconomic Registry and wealth proxies (travel, taxes, billing, assets ownership data and government employment status), and payments are biometrically verified,” she explained the process of payments made under the programme.

The beneficiaries who were eligible but facing problems in withdrawing money owing to faulty biometric identification were being paid out exclusively in the designated bank branches of partner banks.

Similarly, to ease out the payment process for families of deceased beneficiaries, Ehsaas has adopted a procedure under which the families of deceased beneficiaries are required to send out an application in her name (Dr Sania Nishtar) with Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) details of their dead family member along with those of eligible family member straight to Ehsaas offices at Islamabad.

Ms Nishtar said Ehsaas has also launched ‘Ehsaas Emergency Cash — Know Your Status’ Portal to offer an easy window to people registered with Ehsaas Emergency Cash to check their eligibility. “All applicants who have registered themselves through 8171 or Prime Minister’s Labour Portal can now easily check their eligibility status by entering CNIC number on the portal,” she added.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2020