Ehsaas Cash Programme: Biometric system fails to identify thousands

Cash grant applicants appeal to NADRA to open offices


Imran Adnan May 01, 2020
PHOTO: Reuters

LAHORE: Though the government has set a new example of helping the poor by initiating the country’s biggest Ehsas Emergency Cash Programme of Rs144 billion, thousands of citizens are still struggling to get their fingerprints verified from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to get the aid of Rs12,000.

Dozens of needy citizens on Thursday staged a protest outside the NADRA Mega Centre on Egerton Road and demanded opening of the authority’s offices for verification of their fingerprints. They complained that they were running from one office to another to get their fingerprints verified. All NADRA offices are closed and nobody was paying attention to their urgent complaints, they complained.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, a woman, Riffat Bibi, said she had been visiting NADRA offices for four days to get her fingerprints verified.

“This lockdown has pushed many families like us towards hunger and debt. We had great hope with the Ehsas programme but our fingerprints have defied us,” she complained.

Another woman, Bashiran, highlighted that the government had sent Ehsas programme money in the name of her husband who had recently passed away. “I requested officials distributing money at the cash disbursement centre but in vain. They are asking me to get my credentials verified from the NADRA but all their offices are closed. I appeal to Prime Minister Imran Khan to direct the authority to open its offices and verify the credentials and fingerprints of the poor facing serious hardship owing to the lockdown and coronavirus,” she maintained.

Similar complaints were made by several other citizens.

A labourer, Muhammad Arif, highlighted the other day applicants had blocked the Egerton Road to register protest against closure of NADRA offices but police dispersed them after assuring them that the government will soon open the offices for their verification. He said the government should immediately direct NADRA to open its offices as poor people are facing hunger.

A NADRA official said the authority was aware of the fact that many applicants of the Ehsas programme were facing difficulties and protesting for the past few days to get their fingerprints verified. The authority is ready to open its offices countrywide to facilitate applicants of Ehsas programme but after approval of the federal government.

He indicated that once the government approves the authority will open its mega centres in big cities to facilitate the applicants. The authority has to ensure all necessary precautionary measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, which is another big concern, he added.

As per Ehsas Emergency Cash disbursement process, the biometric verification of thumb impressions is mandatory to get the cash aid being offered by the federal government to the low-income strata.

An official working at a cash disbursement centre indicated that fingerprints of many elderly applicants, especially labourers and women, had almost diminished. Biometric machines provided at cash disbursement centres failed to capture their thumb impressions.

He pointed out that extensive hard work for several decades has virtually erased their prints.

“Every day I have to refuse several poor women who are genuinely in need of this money owing to the fingerprint problem. I wish I could help them in any way,” said the official disbursing cash at one of the centres in Lahore.

As a precaution to avoid the spread of coronavirus disease, NADRA had closed its offices across Pakistan last month. Last week, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar had requested the authority to open its offices to facilitate the government for the disbursement of the cash. However, NADRA argued that the federal government should direct it to do so at a time when there was an outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2020.

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