Ehsaas program though widely appreciated has also come under persistent criticism since its launch on March 27, 2019. All Opposition political parties have criticized the initiative on different pretext, specially, Pakistan People Party (PPP) has alleged Premier Khan of political victimization. PPP has criticized the program saying that Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI)’s government has merely change the title of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) and converted it to Ehsaas program.
However, the criticism campaign intensified over social media against the program, when a senior journalist associated with a mainstream media group in a tweet called Ehsaas program as the worst fraud of Pakistan’s history. The journalist shared certain screenshots from one of the Ehsaas subsidiary, Ehsaas Emergency Cash program online portal stating that only 18 families of South Waziristan tribal district have been enrolled as compared to 92,000 families from Swat, the district of Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, establishing that the Ehsaas program is politically influenced. To this Doctor Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation, Social Safety and chairperson BISP replied that there were three categories under Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program: Category 1 and 2 are being paid as per the BISP survey 2010. Due to poor law and order situation in North and South Waziristan, it was not possible to conduct the survey at that time. However, under category 3 of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash program, both South and North Waziristan have been allocated their shares on the basis of population. According to her, so far 61,164 people from North Waziristan and 62,499 from South Waziristan have been registered via SMS. The deserving families of these areas would start getting the financial support after the process of identification and confirmation is completed by NADRA.
Every mega project has room for improvement and the procedure is further refined after constant evaluation and feedback. Ehsaas is the biggest social welfare program in the history of Pakistan, where 10 million families of 72 million persons would benefit from the special cash program. According to Dr Sania Nishtar in category-1, the existing 4.5 million Ehsaas Kafaalat beneficiaries will get additional Rs 1000 per month to their monthly stipend of Rs.2000 for next four months, making the total amount Rs 12000. In category 2, another three million people whose monthly income was under Rs 20,000 will be identified by National Survey while in category-3, another 2.5 million people would be given Ehsaas Emergency Cash under districts share via SMS after their cases are verified by district administration. In this way, a total amount of Rs 150 billion would be distributed among 10 million families.
Ehsaas program is a mega project which has been launched on national level. An effort has been made to make the process easy and automated. The program will further improve with necessary adjustment and refinement. But to target a program or project due to few glitches or lack of situation understanding is short sighted and do not serve anyone purpose. Ehsaas program has been specifically launched for the masses under the poverty line, under privileged and destitute, any undue controversy may jeopardize the program essence and credibility. It would not serve the poor for sure rather add to their miseries.
According to Dr Sania Nishtar, the process of registration, selection and verification is very transparent where a special Ehsaas Emergency Cash online Portal has been created to share all information publicly.
Ehsaas program is unique of its kind, as it is exclusively designed to uplift the poor and low-income classes of the society, provide them with some financial and social assistance in order to enable them to start their own jobs or small businesses. To the well-off and privileged classes such initiatives like a monthly stipend of Rs.3000, free goats, cows, buffalos or auto-rickshaws may hold no value, but steps like these means a lot to the destitute and poor who lives under the poverty line. The mockery and sarcasm of such steps by Pakistani liberal and political elite shows a clear disconnect between them and the poor of Pakistani society. Ehsaas is a step in a right direction and a public project with no political agenda, it should be scrutinized and criticized to correct its course but should not be targeted due to personal or political reasons.