ISLAMABAD - The Federal Cabinet has approved Rs 10 billion relief package (Rs 2 billion per month) for a period of five months to the Utility Stores Corporation for the provision of edible items of daily use to the people at affordable rates across the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday chaired a meeting of the federal cabinet here.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan while giving a briefing to media after the cabinet meeting, said this package will help in ensuring availability of flour, sugar, rice and pulses among other edible items at the USC outlets across the country at reasonable rates.

The USC has been further directed that a 20-kg flour bag be sold at 800 rupees while pulses at 15-20 percent less prices than in the open market.

She said that the government will also devise a strategy to keep a check on the prices of essential edible items.

Dr. Firdous said that the government’s economic team, Ministry of Commerce and other institutions including Utility Stores Corporation gave a detailed briefing to the prime minister during the cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet gave approval to lift the ban on import of sugar to ensure supply of this commodity in the country.

She said the sugar export has been banned and a strategy is being devised to remove regulatory duty on this commodity.

She said that 4.3 million women are being given Rs 2,000 monthly under the Ehsaas Program. The number will reach by 70 million by end of this year, benefitting 46.9 people will benefit.

She said that the PM has also directed his team to devise a mechanism to reduce the prices of gas and electricity in a phase-wise manner to reduce the burden of inflation on the people. 

She said that under the Ehsaas Fee Support Program, the government will provide 750 rupees each for male students and 1000 rupees for female students.

She said that under the Ehsas Nutrition program, which will be launched next month, 20 thousand women will get benefit of it and it will be further expanded in future.

About the Ehsaas Langar Khana program, she said that 100 more Langar Khana points will be established this year across the country with public-private partnership.

Firdous said the cabinet dissatisfied over the inquiry report of the committee regarding crises of wheat and sugar and further directed to submit a report with more information and recommendations within three weeks.

The SAPM said that the Health Advisor briefed the meeting about the government initiatives in preventing Coronavirus in the country.

She said that the cabinet also directed to prepare a comprehensive strategy to control the prices of electricity and gas along with the causes of rising prices. She said the report will also be shared with media and general public.

She said that the government will be extending interest free loans to open at least 2,000 youth stores; five free zones in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to discouraging smuggling of food items and issue ration cards to at least seven million poor women by the end of the year, among others.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said that the cabinet approved the Hajj Policy 2020.

He said this year the hajj quota of intending pilgrims from Pakistan is 179,200 and efforts are being made to increase this number.

He said that 60 percent pilgrims will offer Hajj through the government scheme while 40 percent through private tour operators.

He said that transparency and merit will be ensured while selecting private tour operators as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said the hajj package through the government scheme is 490,000 rupees for intending pilgrims of north region and 480,000 rupees for those from southern region of the country.

He said the increase in Hajj package is due to the surge in the airline fares and depreciation of Pakistani rupee among other reasons. He said the Saudi government has levied an additional fee of 300 riyals for Hajj visa and 110 riyals for mandatory health insurance. Similarly, the cost of residence has also gone up in Makkah.

The minister said that last year the government had reimbursed an amount of 5.50 billion rupees to the pilgrims and this year efforts are being made to minimize the burden on intending pilgrims.

Qadri said that 22,000 Pakistanis benefitted from the Road-to-Makkah project in Islamabad last year and this year talks are underway to extend it to Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta.