Monday September 20, 2021

Poor bearing brunt of planning failures

August 01, 2020

LAHORE: Most of the families are not enthusiastic about Eid this year. Instead, many are in pain as they cannot afford to follow the ritual because of their financial situation.

Many well to do families who could afford buying sacrificial animals till last year, cannot do so any more. In yester years, it was difficult to drive a car or even walk in narrow lanes occupied by sacrificial animals.

This year the number of animals is very low and the lanes are open for traffic and pedestrians. Because of COVID-19, animal markets have been established outside the city. Even then the public is reluctant to visit the markets because of the virus scare.

One cannot fully blame the government for this situation that has turned ugly around the world. But the rot on the economy had started two years back; COVID-19 has simply accelerated it.

Eidul Azha carried more fun and activity for the children. This Eid would leave the children scared and lost, as the number of households that cannot afford to take part in the ritual has increased.

Children wait for Eidul Azha eagerly so they can briefly keep cattle, sheep, and goats in the house. Many households even in the past were not able to buy a sacrificial animal, but several of their neighbours did. There used to be festivity all around.

Those owning the animal had the upper hand, and their friends in the neighbourhood were allowed to pet the animals. They used to feed them, take them around turn by turn and made sure that the place where these animals lived remained clean.

They took turns cleaning the mess created by the animals. There were always some households that were not on good terms with each other. Those not allowed in one house were accommodated in the other.

Thousands of animals would still be sacrificed by the rich, but in those big houses these children would not be allowed to enter. Economic ill planning has taken its toll particularly on the poor.

While in the rest of the world unemployment went out of hand after COVID-19 struck in March 2020; we had already recorded a steep rise in unemployment earlier than March. There has been no consistency in economic policies. One day raising poultry in rural regions is considered the recipe to eradicate poverty, the next day it is the imaginative boost in tourism.

While propagating for industrial revolution the cost of doing business is increased. The regime theoretically believes in fair taxation yet it collected most of the additional revenue through indirect taxation.

Indirect taxes first marginalise the poor and then the next effluent segments of the society. The idea to address poverty through increased agricultural productivity has backfired as Pakistan this year would be importing large quantity of cotton, wheat and sugar.

These are the three largest crops of the country. How can we reduce rural poverty in declining agricultural production? Construction is the only sector that could create large number of jobs for the unskilled workers and daily wagers.

Steps to boost construction activities were taken very late. In its present form the incentives would be lucrative for large developers only that have the collateral to obtain bank loans. Though loan mark-up has been lowered for small houses of 5 and 10 marla, the segment of society that needs small houses do not have the means to buy a piece of land and then construct a house.

Most of the households in this segment are under acute financial distress and are finding it hard to even finance their routine monthly budgets. Unfortunately, this is the segment that faces acute shortage of houses.

It would have been better had this segment been allotted 5 marla plots after proper development and given the opportunity to build a modest house first and upgrade later. It would not be possible for them to buy a house or apartment from large builders at market rates (the builders despite getting huge tax and other concessions would market their apartments or houses at market rates). The hype created about construction package would be as short lived as other initiatives of this government.