Free food for poor
PRIME Minister Imran Khan formally expanded the ‘Ehsaas Koi Bhooka Na Soye’ programme to Multan, Lahore and Gujranwala on last Friday. He had inaugurated this multi-city roll out of food on wheels on 11 April 2021 in Islamabad.
Under the programme food will be distributed through 16 mobile trucks in various cities across Pakistan. The number of the mobile trucks is envisaged to be increased to 40 to cover 29 cities.
The programme ‘Ehsaas Koi Bhooka Na Soye’ is a new policy initiative of the federal government to eliminate hunger in the country.
The initiative is an extension of Ehsaas Langar Policy and it aims at distributing cooked meals at designated delivery points to people in need especially those at risk of or experiencing hunger. Meals will be delivered free of charge through mobile food trucks.
Many of the recipients of free food will be the labour class including the elderly, disabled persons, daily wage earners, women and children who cannot access Ehsaas Langar sites in industrial zones and bus stations.
This programme has been designed in a public private partnership mode whereby Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal will be responsible for the operations of the food trucks and Saylani Welfare International Trust will be responsible for provision of meals.
The government had signed an agreement with the Saylani Welfare International Trust in 2019 under which the latter would open 112 Langars nationwide over a 2-year period in the public private partnership.
Areas where Langars were to be established included bus stands, industrial areas, railway stations and places where labourers tend to congregate.
Second Caliph of Islam Umar ibne al-Khattab who expanded Islamic rule through Mesopotamia, Syria and initiated conquest of Iran and Egypt is also ungrudgingly acknowledged as the pioneer of the concept of public administration and the proponent of the responsibilities of the state and government towards its citizens, particularly the people at the lowest rung of the society.
His saying that if a dog dies hungry on the bank of Euphrates Umar will be responsible for it, not only underlined guiding principle for governance but also played an instrumental role in the evolution of the concept of a modern welfare state.
Food and shelter are the basic human needs and therefore it is incumbent upon the state and government to give top priority to the policy initiatives that fulfil these needs of the citizens.
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 among other things reiterated “Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”
Apart from providing free food to the hungry the PTI government has also taken a big stride for poverty alleviation under the umbrella of Ehsaas Programme, which consists of 134 initiatives for the elimination of poverty conforming to concepts of safety nets, human capital development, jobs and livelihood and pro-poor governance.
The programme is in consonance with the spirit of empathy and compassion as per Islamic injunctions, concept of welfare state, sayings of the second caliph and the founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Among the steps in regards to pro-poor governance are the Ehsas Kafalat programme and Shelters for homeless, passengers and daily wage earners in the urban centres who are the people at the lowest rung of the society.
The Kafalat programme aims to have seven million women beneficiaries by the end of 2021 out of which 70% have already been inducted into the porgramme.
As part of this programme the most destitute women, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity get paid a monthly stipend of Rs.2000.
This monthly stipend ensures some predictability in income enabling the family to get food and healthcare when they would have otherwise been forced to go without it.
This cash flow in addition to social protection also pursues financial and digital inclusion where 7 million women will be given bank accounts besides ensuring their access to phones to increase their reach to the messages related to health protection and empowerment.
It is for the first time in the history of the country that this pro-poor initiative has been taken.
At present 150 shelters are running across the county equipped with modern facilities. The government reportedly has allocated Rs.49.5 million per annum for each Shelter Home.
According to the data compiled by the concerned authorities up till now more than 144,609 destitute have benefitted from the Panahgah, while 16,566 people have been provided beds and 128,048 served meals in the Shelters. The programme envisages to provide roofs to 29 million people.
These shelter homes are being run on build, run and handover basis in collaboration with charity organizations and private sector which is sponsoring it under corporate social responsibility.
The foregoing steps undoubtedly strengthen the credentials of the PTI government as pro-poor entity committed to poverty alleviation and building Pakistan as a welfare state on the model of State of Medina.
It would be pertinent to point out that all these initiatives, owe it to personal commitment of the Prime Minister Imran Khan and his strong belief that no country could achieve sustainable socio-economic development without elimination of poverty.
No wonder he is great admirer of the Chinese success in elimination of poverty and achieving phenomenal economic progress in a few decades.
— The writer is former Director General Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, based in Islamabad.