In a commendable move, the government has managed to register for financial support nearly 10 million families who are amongst the poorest of the poor and have been struggling to make ends meet in a hyperinflation economy. Support under the Ehsaas Ration Programme, which may appear meagre to most, can make a world of a difference for people living at the bottom of the socioeconomic chain.
With the rupee plummeting and prices of almost all commodities, including fuel and essential foods, going through the roof, the government had feared that those living at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder would be the most adversely affected. As a result, it had decided to launch the end-to-end digital programme by utilising technology and its vast Ehsaas database to provide targeted subsidy to around 20 million families who are surviving on a monthly income of less than Rs50,000.
The government has to be lauded for not only realising the impact crushing inflation would have on such people and moving swiftly to register around 9.6 million families. Moreover, the decision and then creating a system to ensure the provision of targeted relief through digital identification will help address past issues of pilferage in the execution of such schemes.
However, in the grand scheme of things, the programme of giving a subsidy of around 2%, with backbreaking inflation shooting into double digits, is akin to placing a band-aid on a haemorrhaging gash. Moreover, according to the state, around 22% of the country’s population is currently under the poverty line while independent assessments by international institutions which provide funds to Pakistan indicate that this figure is nearly double as the poverty rate is hovering around 39%. What this means is that even if the government covers all the people it is targeting with the subsidy, it will probably be missing out on millions of others who are equally suffering from inflation.
The government needs to get a handle on the economy fast if it hopes to bring any real change.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2021.