The federal government’s announcement of striking over 800,000 people off the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is a potentially positive move to restructure the welfare project, at least in principle. A decision like this is likely to ruffle some feathers and become a (valid) cause for concern for those who are worried that some deserving people might also lose out. But as long as the government uses reliable data to back its decision and keep the process of removing names – and adding any new ones – transparent, it is hoped that the support initiative will only improve as time passes.

But whether this is truly the case is questionable. The government’s decision to move towards an evidence-based criterion for granting government support under BISP is a good idea, but only if the NADRA database being used is accurate and reliable. The reported amount that the government stands to save after this is Rs16 billion, which must be rerouted for more developmental and welfare projects, in order for the ruling party to keep its electoral promise of reducing disparity in Pakistan.

Another factor to consider is the yardstick itself, that is being set by the government. Within this database there are questions the government must answer; for instance, how are development experts in the government basing welfare support on phone bills and other forms of consumption? It is unwise to always assume that these commodities are for leisure or those of privilege only. For many individuals, the use of mobile phones opens many doors in terms of employment opportunities and other monetary benefits, which is why assuming that all bills above the amount of 1000 entail financial security is completely devoid of sense.

Paying the executive fee for NADRA fast-track identity cards or even for passports for that matter, should not make someone ineligible for consideration. The government should understand the importance of such documents and what they represent to earning members of the family; which is why using this particular standard is problematic as well.

As for spouses of government, yet again this is a set of rules that might not account for the many convoluted situations families have within themselves. While nuclear families are the preferred mode of child-rearing in Pakistan, the stigma attached with divorce and other issues entail that data and the paper trail alone cannot give the government a full picture of the situation in real life.

The parameters defined by the government are by no means perfect, but the actions at least, seem well-intentioned, It is hoped that the government reviews the standards it has established, and perhaps also opens an avenues for complaints and redressals for those that have been left out.