Hundreds of women in Faisalabad protested against alleged corruption in the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) on Wednesday. The protesters blocked Jaranwala Road for over three hours and demanded the full payment owed to them.
Over 400 women blocked Jaranwala Road, by staging a sit-in near the Kakwana Stop on Wednesday morning. The women chanted slogans against the establishment and said that they had been cheated out of most of the money owed to them under the BISP. “The programme is being monitored by corrupt officials, which is why some people are getting their share and others have gotten nothing. We all have the relevant documentation but I haven’t been paid a single instalment for the past four months,” said Faisalabad resident Hajra Bibi.
The protesters said that they had each been promised a certain sum based on a survey conducted under the BISP but that the officials in-charge of distributing the cash had used up some of the money for their own purposes. “I was supposed to receive monthly instalments of Rs2,000 and was told to wait until four months had passed to claim the total amount. When I went to the post office they only gave me this month’s instalment,” said Fazeelat.
Protesters said that under the scheme, they were each supposed to get a monthly instalment of Rs2,000 until they has received the full sum owed to them. “Previously it was Rs1,000 but now we are handing out cheques of Rs2,000,” said a BISP officer Faisal Zuberi. “The complaints are unfounded. All the people are being paid their instalment but they want the entire amount in one go,” he said.
The protesters said that the BISP office was scamming them out of their previous cash instalments. “They kept telling us to return home every month and said that we would get a three to four month instalment of Rs8,000 in April. When I went to the office, I only got Rs2,000 and the clerk told me that was all I was owed,” said Saleema and her sister Mahnoor.
At one BISP check-post, protestors and police officials came to blows and the police arrested two youths. “I had brought my mother and sister to claim their money but the clerk told us we were no longer eligible. We have the papers to prove it,” said 15-year-old Liaqat, adding “but they told us that our name wasn’t on the survey list.”
Saadullah and Liaqat said that the BISP was trying to phase out people who had been issued forms by the programme officers. “Several families were issued forms in the initial phase of the programme before we conducted a survey. Later on we began putting peoples names on the list. We are giving out cheques to both,” said Zuberi.
The protesters alleged that the programme was trying to exclude people who had forms and did not have their names on the list. “I have known people who have gotten the entire instalment of Rs8,000 and others who were turned away empty handed. The system is completely haywire,” said Rashida Naveed.
Police officials eventually broke up the protest and cleared the road for traffic after several hours. Protesters, however, said that they would continue their protests until they were paid the money they were owed.
“I have been told for months that I will get my money in one go and when I came to claim it I was told they could only pay me an instalment of Rs2,000,” said Khatoon Bibi. “When I used to go to the clerks they told me to wait for the full amount and now they tell me I should be happy with a single installment. They are hoping we will somehow forget about the fact that we are owed Rs6,000 to Rs8,000 and be happy with Rs2,000,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2011.