PRIME Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday (March 27) launched “EHSAS” programme to eliminate poverty in the country. An amount of Rs 120 billion has been earmarked for the initiative conceived by the government and promised to mobilize all resources to uplift the poor segments of society. Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be influenced from China’s experience/expertise and has desire to make it result oriented in a similar pattern. In 2011, 12.4% of Pakistanis live below in Pakistan’s definition of poverty. In 2016, Pakistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) was 0.550, lower than Bangladesh’s 0.579, which was formerly a part of the country itself. Pakistan’s HDI is the lowest in South Asia. As of 2017, the Asian Development Bank reports that there are approximately 210 million people living in Pakistan. According to Pakistan’s first ever official report on multidimensional poverty launched in 2016 reveals that 4 out of 10 Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty. The report was compiled with technical support from UNDP Pakistan and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford, therefore, we can trust that standard definition would be taken to work out poverty index. Statistics may not reflect the real picture as it vary due to the definition of poverty.
PM Imran Khan has in his mind the concept of “Riasat-e-Madina”. In Islam, poverty is a great curse and unfortunate. Poverty is the state in which one lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. Poverty is said to exist when people lack the means to satisfy their basic needs. The poverty may be defined “Poverty is a multi-dimensional trend which is characterized by lack of income and non-fulfillment of basic needs as well as lack of access to social infrastructure”. A level of personal or family income below which one is classified as poor according to governmental standards – called also poverty level. Therefore poverty line needs to draw carefully to assess the real magnitude of poverty. Causes of poverty may be divided into three categories: economic, social and political. The various elements comprising the problem of poverty work in a circular way. They form many economic and social circles which social scientists call the “Vicious Circles”.
The most attribute of vicious circle is circular causation; “everything depends on everything”. Vicious circle of poverty is the largest reason of poverty. The people are poor because they are poor. Similarly vicious circle of underdevelopment is “low productivity-low income-low saving-low investment”. So initial problem to be solved is to discover which vicious circles are the basic causes of others and then to determine how these can be turned in to feedback mechanisms to induce sustained growth. In economic category main causes of poverty are unemployment, low investment, low productivity due to backward technology, absence of micro financing, Irrational taxation, increase in utility charges, ignoring agriculture sector and improper income distribution. In social category, population pressure, dishonesty & corruption, illiteracy and incompetent skill are important factors. Similarly law & order and poor governance are the political causes of poverty.
Different instruments may be used to eliminate poverty. Since everything depends on everything, therefore, there is a need to break the main vicious circle of underdevelopment and poverty. The rationalised taxes, control of inflation, introduction of modern techniques of production, operative micro financing, skill development programme, technical and vocational education and effectively implementation of law & order are vital measures to eliminate poverty. Some measures announced by PM Imran Khan are not new such as posting of Community Welfare Attaché (CWAs), distribution of goats, hens & eggs and stipend to women. CWAs are working ineffectively since long because of using these posts as privilege posting. Similarly DERA (Drought Emergency Relief Assistances) Unit in Planning & Development Division was established in 2001 to facilitate the implementation of the project in the drought-hit areas of all the four provinces and coordinate activities carried out in the provinces to mitigate the effects of drought. The measures announced by PM seam cosmetic measures and time consuming. It can easily be assessed that either PM was not correctly briefed or the programme prepared without evaluating the existing and past poverty alleviations projects. In Pakistan, poverty is increasing day by day. Effective steps of government are required to reduce it. Government should give priority to create job opportunities rather than taking such cosmetic and time consuming measures. The steps announced to provide credit facilities to start business may be effective but need to be implemented impartially. Hopefully the government will give priority to create job activities by breaking the vicious circle of underdevelopment. Employment is major instrument to eliminate poverty.
—The writer is ex-Chief, Planning Commission of Pakistan.