The impoverished people of Balochistan deserve the proposed increase in the number of beneficiaries
alochistan is widely acknowledged as the poorest province in Pakistan. Various studies conducted over the years support the view. As much as 10-11 percent of Pakistan’s total population living in poverty resides in Balochistan. According to the 2016 Report on Multidimensional Poverty, three out of four individuals in the province live below the poverty line. Despite the dire situation, the province is not receiving its fair share of poverty alleviation funds under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
A series of messages exchanged between officials of the Balochistan government and the federal government show that Balochistan’s share of total beneficiaries of the BISP who receive unconditional transfers is a mere 4 percent. There are only 230,000 such beneficiaries in Balochistan. Discounting for a moment that it is poorer than the other provinces, Balochistan receives even less than its share according to population (6 percent).
This is exacerbating the problems faced by Balochistan which is already receiving less funds from the federal divisible pool due to under-reporting of poverty in the region. At present, Balochistan’s share in the NFC Award is 9.09 percent; it should be 10.41 percent if the most recent poverty figures from the 2016 Report on Multidimensional Poverty are taken into account.
Against this backdrop, the Balochistan government has requested the federal government to raise the province’s share in the BISP programme. On April 23, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced in Quetta that an additional 500,000 households would be added to the existing list of BISP beneficiaries. He reaffirmed this commitment on June 3 and announced that the poor households in Gwadar will be added to the BISP list.
Although nearly nine months have passed since the prime minister announced this commitment, the BISP has not implemented it. Officials of the Balochistan government have reminded the BISP of this commitment in three letters. On June 28, the chief minister wrote to the prime minister again and urged him to honour his commitment to raise the number of BISP beneficiaries in Balochistan.
Nearly nine months have passed since the prime minister announced this commitment. However, the BISP has not implemented the plan.
Instead of raising the number of beneficiaries by 500,000 as previously announced by the prime minister, BISP officials now intend to raise the number from 230,000 to 500,000, according to information shared with The News on Sunday by an official in the federal government. This means an increase of 270,000 beneficiaries in Balochistan, as opposed to the 500,000 announced by the prime minister.
BISP officials have not responded to questions from The News on Sunday.
Unprecedented rainfall and flash floods have destroyed many parts of Balochistan, most notably in Naseerabad, where many areas remain inundated. The flood victims require ongoing support rather than the one-time cash transfer that has already been made.
In light of this situation, it is imperative that the BISP and the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division take immediate steps to fulfill the prime minister’s pledge. The Minister Shazia Marri should personally take up this issue and raise the number of BISP beneficiaries in Balochistan. The people of the province expect her to take an active role in this matter, with the ultimate goal of fulfilling the prime minister’s commitment.
A source in the federal government revealed to The News on Sunday that the financial impact of adding 500,000 new beneficiaries would be Rs 12 billion. This is an amount the federal government should easily be able to transfer to the BISP. Additionally, the assistance received from the global community for flood relief and rehabilitation can also be used.
The impoverished people of Balochistan deserve this proposed increase in the number of beneficiaries. Any efforts to delay or impede the implementation of the decision would be a severe injustice to the people. The BISP, the federal government and the Balochistan government should work together on a war-footing to resolve this issue.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on Twitter @iAdnanAamir