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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan is considering allocation of up to 250 billion rupees for Ehsaas Programme in the upcoming financial year 2021-22 to implement large-scale social safety initiatives launched through this programme under Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division (PASSD).

This amount would include Rs 168 billion for seven million BISP beneficiaries that would be provided monthly financial assistance of Rs 2000 in the financial year 21-22 under Kifaalat Programme, Business Recorder has learnt.

In this context, the PM is holding consultations with his aides dealing with financial matters and has directed them to make arrangements for allocating a hefty chunk of funds for social welfare programmes in the upcoming federal budget, it is further learnt.

The PM is also mulling over launching Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme for which a separate allocation of Rs 200 billion is under consideration, according to sources.

This indicates that the overall budget for social safety initiatives may well exceed Rs 500 billion in the financial year 2021-22 including the budget for miscellaneous expenditures for PASSD and its attached organizations, a senior official at Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) said, requesting anonymity.

In the outgoing fiscal year 2020-21, federal government allocated an overall amount of more than Rs 416.2 billion for social welfare initiatives. Out of this budget, government allocated Rs 208 billion under Ehsaas Programme and Rs 203 billion for Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme. Under Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, over Rs 179 billion were distributed among nearly 15 million beneficiaries who were provided one-time cash assistance of Rs 12,000 each. These people belonged to downtrodden segments of society severely affected by lockdown measures the government took to stem the spread of corona virus.

The BISP source said budget allocations are being outlined for three new initiatives launched under Ehsaas umbrella; Mazdoor Ka Ehsaas, Koye Bhooka Na Soye and Rehribaan initiatives for which up to Rs 15 billion are expected in the new budget although exact details are still not known.

Under Koye Bhooka Na Soye initiative, food trucks serve free cooked food at various points across twin cities; Rawalpindi and Islamabad, feeding around 2,000 people daily. This initiative would be expanded to other cities, the official said.

Mazdoor Ka Ehsaas is launched under public-private partnership to feed laborers. So far, 34 Langar facilities have been opened nationwide and work on the remaining is underway.

The Rehribaan project aims at financial support of street vendors.

Other significant initiatives whose budget is likely to be increased include Waseela-e-Taleem, Nashonuma, and Tahafuz.

Waseela-e-Taleem is a conditional cash transfer initiative for primary school children that aim to provide children of poorest families conditional cash grants of Rs 1,500 for boys and Rs 2,000 for girls per quarter on attainment of 70 per cent attendance in school.

Nashonuma aims to provide healthcare to pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as minor children facing stunted growth due to malnourishment.

Tahafuz aims at providing healthcare support to the deserving.

Federal government is hopeful that its social safety initiatives under Ehsaas Programme would receive a major boost in upcoming financial year as World Bank's Board of Executive Directors have approved $ 600 million to support Pakistan in expansion of Ehsaas Programme in March this year.

The release of this approved amount would start from the next financial year although exact details remain unclear so far, government sources said.

Last week, the World Bank recognized Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, under the leadership of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar, among top four social protection interventions worldwide in terms of the number of people covered.

In March this year, a report by International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) said Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme helped Pakistan counter the socio-economic fallout of COVID-19.

In October last year, a joint study by the United Nations and IPC-IG declared Pakistan as one of the top ranked countries in Asia having the highest response to social protection amid COVID-19 crises.

In December last year, a United Kingdom-based advisory firm Delivery Associates declared Ehsaas Programme a success story, which, it said, could "transform poverty alleviation in Pakistan and perhaps become a globally celebrated example of what can be done with the right combination of ambition and effective delivery."

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021