The government has initiated the largest financial assistance program in the nation’s history, Ehsaas Cash Emergency, to help people affected by the ongoing lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the program, over 12 million families will receive a one-time payment of Rs12,000 to allow them to buy food supplies and not go hungry due to the lockdown. The authorities have used mobile phone messages and NICs to identify and contact eligible families. There are 17,000 contact centres established and banks have been instructed to open on weekends for the distribution of the funds.
The international media has also praised the social protection effort, placing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s detractors at bay for the moment. The government should be appreciated for launching the ambitious program worth over Rs150 billion in a short span of time. The country faces an economic crisis but the social welfare structure has allowed it to roll out such an initiative even faster than many developed countries.
The main concern was that large crowds would gather outside collection points, violating social distancing and defeating the purpose of the lockdown. The last few days, since the handouts have started, have not witnessed any major disruptions. The program is certainly a step in the right direction and better than providing nothing as the poor continue to be the worst affected by the crisis.
Many political opponents have seized the opportunity and alleged the program is targeted to PTI supporters. The prime minister has assured that the provision of financial assistance will be transparent, merit-based, and non-political. There were similar concerns over the Tiger Force even though half a million people volunteered to be a part of it.
There has been a lockdown in several parts of the country for almost a month. Millions of people particularly daily wagers have been hit hard. The prime minister had already said that a complete lockdown will be catastrophic for the lowest segments of society. This program will provide some much-needed respite from the economic fallout caused due to the pandemic.