LARKANA/KARACHI: Every week Hawa Bibi visits the regional office of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in Larkana to inquire about her monthly stipend, which has now become an uphill task for female beneficiaries.
For the last 13 months, she regularly visits the office but has yet to hear any good news. "In this scorching heat, I wait for hours for my stipend. It's like I come here and sit for hours just to listen to a no," she lamented.
Hawa Bibi is among those beneficiaries who witnessed a stampede in which an elderly woman lost her life while struggling to get her stipend.
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"Azmat Khatoon lived near my village. We used to visit her. On a Monday morning, a large number of women were lined up seeking information of their stipend when suddenly, a woman cried and some started running. Azmat was weak. She was suffering from fever. She fell down and died on the spot," Hawa Bibi said, adding that no one took notice of the incident and the family members took Azmat's body to their village.
"They owe me around Rs16,000. I am fed up with the fake promises of officials. This is my last visit and I will never come here again," she said, adding that initially, she would get Rs1,500 per month, but later the officials released a quarterly amount, which has not been stopped.
A middle-aged man, Muhammad Moosa, complained that his mother has been a beneficiary of this programme since its inception, but her stipend has been stopped for the last eight months. "I don't have any idea why it was stopped. They know the reason behind it," he said, adding that some agents have asked him for commission to release the funds.
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Apart from Larkana, the same situation persists in other districts where women can be seen lined up waiting for hours for their stipends. Some women protested in front of the Karachi Press Club recently and demanded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government to take notice of it.
"This programme is initiated in the name of Benazir, so Bilawal Bhutto must take notice of it," said Hajra Akram, a beneficiary who lives in Lyari.
The BISP was launched under the PPP government in 2008 and is the largest social safety net programme of Pakistan. According to officials, around Rs90 billion was distributed to 5.4 million women last year. There are a total of 1.6 million female beneficiaries in Sindh alone.
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Speaking to The Express Tribune, Adviser to the Chief Minister on Social Welfare Shamim Mumtaz said that the federal government had stopped the funds and the provincial government has nothing to do with it.
Giving a briefing about the procedure, Mumtaz said that the local zakat council recommends names of deserving people and the funds are released from Islamabad. "Initially, women used to get money in cash, but now ATM cards have been issued to them," she said, adding that the provincial government is looking for an option through which women will not have to face hassles in getting their stipends.
According to PPP Senator Aajiz Dhamrah, he had raised the issue in the Senate, but no one responded to it. "Whenever people from Sindh lodge complaints, the programme head, Marvi Memon, refers them to the chief minister, asking them to get the money from the PPP government, which is unjustified," he said.
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Despite many attempts, Memon could not be reached for her comments. However, the spokesperson for BISP said the programme was running successfully and all its beneficiaries get their stipends on time. "There are a few technical issues, which is why the stipend payment has been delayed in some parts of Pakistan," he said.
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