State is supposed to be the protector of all its segments and classes, more so of the vulnerable categories of people who usually remain unprotected against homelessness, impoverishment, joblessness and thus complete forlornness.

It is here where the state needs to act swiftly on top priority basis without delaying the provision of direly needed relief and support. Unfortunately, in our part of the world, things have seldom been handled to the benefit of the common man because of a big disconnect between the ordinary public and the ruling elite, courtesy the top guns’ overall indifference and strong liking for self-importance.

Very few among the rulers, including those democratically elected, tried in earnest to bridge this disconnect, let alone put an end to it. The end result has been an alarming increase in the number of people living below the poverty line.

According to some recently compiled WFP (World Food Programme) reports, about 40 to 50 million Pakistanis are undernourished and don’t have sufficient means to procure proper foodstuff on a regular basis.

Obviously, there are no easy solutions to such catastrophic troubles which have tended to aggravate due to other factors, especially the devastating effects of deadly pandemic, Covid-19, on the national economy and public health .

In these circumstances, in order to drastically minimise these mass deprivations, the government, under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directives, came up with an Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme in April 2020 despite severe financial constraints. This program was widely hailed even in foreign capitals as a tremendous social protection intervention. And, although this programme was launched during the Covid-19 outbreak, it can still be termed as a matchless measure undertaken by any government of Islamabad to empower the weakest and most vulnerable segments of the society.

As the facts go, this initiative was launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 1 last to provide one-time emergency cash of Rs12,000 to the piece-rate and daily wage workers, realising the economic hardship faced by the vulnerable groups due to the Coronavirus lockdown in the country.

As many as 15 million families, covering almost half of the national populace, received this relief which added up to Rs180 billion, a huge amount given in any such relief package at a time, by any government.

As regards the people who could not collect their amount due to faulty bio-metric issues and death of beneficiaries, the payment process was put in a continuous mode.

Things were handled not only transparently but also mathematically as micro analysis of the country’s labour work force was done prior to disbursements. During this analysis, it was revealed that there were 24 million breadwinners in the country who either work as daily wage workers, at piece-rate enumeration or in the self-employment mode in the country’s large informal economy. When this figure is multiplied with the average family size, the country has 160 million of such individuals. It amounts to two-third of the total population.

The modus operandi of disbursements has also been quite appreciable as the daily wagers and labourers whose livelihoods were badly affected during the lockdown, were asked to send SMS on 8171 through wide advertisement after which 139 million SMS were received. The details of the applicants were subsequently scrutinised through data analytics and different parameters to select the most eligible beneficiaries in a transparent manner.

The payment process was started through the designated banks and retailers’ outlets while ensuring compliance of Covid-19 SOPs (Standard Operating procedures). In addition, good strategies were prepared to cope with challenges like cyber attacks, biometric failures, unregistered deaths, closure of banks and relevant institutions etc.

According to a study conducted by UNICEF, UN and IPC-IG to assess social protection response in Asia focusing on an extensive mapping and overview of how social protection measures were deployed by the countries in Asia and the Pacific region in response to the Covid-19 crisis, Pakistan covered the highest number of responses to social protection in Asia through Ehsaas Emergency Cash.

According to the provincial breakdown of Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme’s ‘disbursed and withdrawal amount’ till November 6, 2020, an amount of Rs92459.628 million has been disbursed to the bank in Punjab while Rs79999.338 million have been withdrawn.

A total amount of Rs60532.548 million has been disbursed to the bank in Sindh out of which Rs55305.1245 million have been withdrawn; Rs34914.384 million disbursed to bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which Rs30390.04325 million withdrawn and Rs9593.364 million disbursed to bank in Azad Jammu and Kashmir out of which Rs2826.825 withdrawn.

An amount of Rs952.488 million has been disbursed to the bank in Islamabad out of which Rs833.8525 million withdrawn and Rs1494.396 million disbursed to the bank in Gilgit-Baltistan and Rs1346.74975 million withdrawn.

According to the `Provincial Breakdown of Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme Beneficiaries’ till November 6, around 7704969 beneficiaries enrolled in the programme in Punjab out of which 6617079 beneficiaries withdrew the amount, 5044379 beneficiaries enrolled in Sindh and 4589662 beneficiaries withdrew  the amount and 2909532 beneficiaries enrolled from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which 2506424 beneficiaries withdrew the amount. Around 799447 enrolled from Balochistan out of which 701419 beneficiaries withdrew the cash amount, 272608 enrolled from Azad Jammu and Kashmir out of which 231757 beneficiaries withdrew the amount, 124533 beneficiaries enrolled from Gilgit-Baltistan among which 110472 received their amount and 79374 beneficiaries enrolled from Islamabad out of which 69081 withdrew the amount.

The ongoing programmes under the umbrella of Ehsaas also include Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship, Ehsaas Langar Scheme, Ehsaas Kafalat, Ehsaas Interest Free Loans, Ehsaas Amdan, Waseela-i-Taleem Initiative and Ehsaas Nashonuma and billions of rupees have been disbursed under these initiatives to benefit millions of people.

In this regard, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar deserves special attention and commendation for performing excellently as head of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme with honest commitment and devotion.

By S. Rehman