Ehsaas lacks legal cover, being run through BISP bank accounts

Published June 28, 2021
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan visits an Ehsaas cash distribution point.— APP/File
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan visits an Ehsaas cash distribution point.— APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Though the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has virtually converted the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) into its flagship social safety programme called Ehsaas, it is still making official correspondence and banking transactions regarding Ehsaas in the name of the BISP.

It has been learnt that Ehsaas has no legal and constitutional standing as the government has to make required legislation to convert the BISP, which was launched through an act of parliament, into Ehsaas.

Not only the incumbent government but the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had also tried to change the name of the BISP, which has been named after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, but could not do so due to “political pressure”.

On the other hand, the PTI government says that Ehsaas is a bigger social safety programme than the BISP which is one of 37 components of Ehsaas.

PPP says social safety programme’s name can be changed only through act of parliament; PM aide to brief media soon

A senior official of the BISP said Ehsaas was being run under Social Safety Division of Ministry of Poverty Alleviation which was headed by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Sania Nishtar. She is also chairperson of the BISP.

However, the official said that the BISP was the country’s only social safety programme which had constitutional cover and therefore official correspondence in connection with Ehsaas-related programmes was being done on BISP letterheads. “Even cheques are issued to the banks for providing monetary assistance to the needy people through BISP bank accounts,” he added.

The BISP was launched during Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in 2008 by the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the advice of former president Asif Ali Zardari. The programme’s name is a tribute to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Earlier monthly stipend of Rs2,000 was given to a poor family registered with the BISP, but the PTI government has increased the amount to Rs3,000.

When contacted, BISP spokesman said he could not reply to the queries about the programme unless he was permitted by the BISP chairperson.

Dr Sania Nishtar told Dawn that she would brief the media on the matter soon.

PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said the BISP was launched by the PPP government through an act of parliament as a social protection plan with emphasis on financially empowering the poorest of poor women. The programme and its logo were protected by the act of parliament and any change in it would have to be come through another act of parliament, he said.

As early as in 2016, Mr Babar said, the BISP had become the country’s most extensive poverty reduction programme with over 5.4 million beneficiaries, fortifying the position of women in the society.

“An attempt was made in the past also to change its nomenclature but sanity prevailed and it was not done,” he said.

The PPP leader said Ehsaas programme launched by the PTI government was rooted in the BISP. “Imran Khan has changed the name to satisfy his ego in the hope that people will forget Benazir Bhutto,” he said.

“Little does he know that Benazir Bhutto lives in the hearts and minds of the people and cannot be removed from there by administrative or legal manipulations.”

The PTI government has removed over 800,000 “fake beneficiaries” from the BISP database and now it is preparing a fresh data of needy people who will benefit from the programme.

It has been learnt that the PTI government wants to make legislation to officially and constitutionally convert the BISP into Ehsaas programme but refrains from doing so due to expected political reaction.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2021

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