A sigh of relief for the distressed | By Abdul Rashid Shakir


A sigh of relief for the distressed

POLITICAL instability, financial mismanagement and broken promises with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are hitting the masses hard in current crises of high inflation, depreciation of rupee against dollar and higher commodity prices in the International market.  “To buy or not to buy, that is the question” for a common man in the wake of massive hike in the prices of basic necessities of life like food items, clothes and shelter. Unchecked spike in the circular debt of energy sector, higher electricity and gas tariff, untargeted and unaccounted-for subsidies in different sectors of economy are adding woes to the precarious economic conditions of the people.

Surge in the fuel cost not only raises travel fares for the commuters but also causes the prices of every item to shoot up because of enhanced shipping charges incurred on transporting goods from farms and factories to the markets. And above all, depleting income resources because of closure of industrial units and high rate of unemployment further aggravates the whole mix.  Similarly, for the Governments too, things are not that much easy to manage. Sustaining the bleeding State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) like Steel Mills, PIA, GENCOs DISCOs and others; making exorbitant amount of funds available for ensuring national defense and maintaining law and order in the country; and arranging for the high debt repayment costs besides recurring expenditure of the civil administration like salaries, pensions, POL and others are undoubtedly akin to achieving an uphill task for the country’s financial managers, given the limited economic pie available.

However, it is not a hard nut to crack that in such a testing time, any pro-poor intervention of the authorities in power is not only a sigh of relief for the poverty-stricken segments of society but also a quick relief pill for the ailing economy.

Cognizant of their responsibility to provide as much relief to people as possible within their limited financial resources, the Government of Punjab has come up with an innovative and out-of-the-box plan to provide a bit of relief to the depressed and down-trodden sections of the community.  With the help of Federal Government, it has finalized a hefty Ramazan Relief Package, worth Rs.  53 Billion, to supply free flour to 100 Million people of its 120 Million population, which accounts for more than 80% of its total population.

As per the approved package, around 15.83 Million households in Punjab that earn up to Rs.  60,000 per month will receive 03 bags of 10 Kg flour each (30 Kg) free of cost during the holy month of Ramazan. To make the distribution process hassle-free, an intended recipient would write ATA space his CNIC number (ATA CNIC) and send it to 8070 for getting himself/herself registered in the Package.Starting from 15th of March, District Administration across the province will distribute free flour bags to the registered beneficiaries through 20,000 Points of Sale (POS), including 6000 Utility Stores, 2000 Karyana Stores registered with BISP and some 12,000 trucking points to cover all the potential recipients across the Province. Quality and quantity of flour in the bags would be strictly monitored through active liaison of the relevant district administration and the flour mill owner, in order to provide good standard flour to the people.

The entire distribution process would be made smooth, transparent and effective with the use of technology. Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has developed a user-friendly Mobile App for the purpose. The intended recipient would scan his/her CNIC via this App at the dedicated Point of Sale (POS) to confirm his/her registration with the Programme and to get a confirmation coupon. On producing the said coupon, he/she will receive a 10 Kg flour bag from the delivery counter.

This joint venture of the Federal and Provincial Government of the Punjab is a right step in the right direction to ameliorate the sufferings of common people hit hard by the inflation and high cost of living.

The Caretaker Chief Minister Punjab, Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi has directed all his cabinet colleagues and the provincial machinery to ensure their physical presence in the field during the holy month of Ramazan to keep an effective check on the smooth supply of free and quality flour to the residents of Punjab during Ramazan under this historic relief package.  Though a good start, more such humanitarian interventions are eagerly needed to shield the low and middle income segments of society being terribly tormented by the tragic onslaught of rising commodity prices and ever-escalating cost of almost everything that matters to all and sundry.  It is hoped that the Government of Punjab would come up with more such people-centric and humanitarian initiatives for the welfare and socio-economic uplift of the people of Punjab.

—The writer is a CSP with aptitude for research and development communication.

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