Government’s Zakat funds diminish as seekers surge

Out of millions, only 136,000 patients have been able to secure charity in the last three years


Rizwan Asif October 09, 2021
Zakat will be deducted from Savings Accounts having credit balance of over Rs35,557 on first of Ramazan. STOCK IMAGE

LAHORE:

The persisting economic conditions of the country have taken a toll on people’s finances, triggering a significant increase in the population eligible for and actively seeking zakat. At the same time, however, it appears that owing to a reduction in savings deposits in banks and an increase in the exemption from automatic deduction of money from bank accounts for zakat, the government too has been left strapped for cash to fund the Islamic charity.

As a result of this, the distribution of zakat funds for the treatment of deserving patients in hospitals has been severely affected.

In Punjab, which harbours a population of more than 110 million people, the zakat department selects more than 24,400 local Zakat Councils. Then zakat is annually distributed to more than two and a half million people, including students of schools, colleges, universities and religious seminaries.

Per details, Rs18,000 is distributed annually to students of medical and engineer, while a grant is also distributed for the treatment of leprosy patients and the marriage of girls who cannot afford it.

However, due to limited financial resources, the zakat grant has been distributed to only 136,000 deserving patients in Punjab’s hospitals in the last three years. While on the other hand, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the need for zakat grants in the health sector has seen a sudden upsurge, as more and more patients throng the province’s hospitals.

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While hundreds and thousands of people have been reportedly approaching the zakat department, the department’s lack of resources has kept it from aiding more than a set number of people in recent years.

Speaking in this regard a zakat department source explained on conditions of anonymity that trend of depositing money in savings accounts of banks has decreased in the last few years due to increased vigilance of financial watchdogs like NAB and FBR. “On the other hand, a large number of account holders have obtained exemption from automatic deduction of zakat from banks accounts, due to which less fund is available to the federal government in terms of zakat deduction,” he added.

During the last three years, the zakat fund has been used to dedicate Rs 53 million for the treatment of 136,000 deserving patients in the province’s district government hospitals, while Rs87 million has been provided to 186,000 patients in teaching hospitals.

Whereas, during pandemic times, the government had relied on the accumulated zakat fund to offer assistance of Rs1.79 billion to over 200,000 workers who had been pushed to the bread lines.

According to official sources, an extraordinary number of applications for zakat has been received in the last few years. In response to this, the government has set up local Zakat Councils across the province to select Zakat beneficiaries.

The councils, after reviewing and verifying the applications, send recommendations to the provincial head office. Due to limited financial resources, efforts are being made to provide Zakat to a deserving person for at least one year and to give a chance to a new deserving person next year.

Talking in this regard, Punjab Zakat Department Administrator Rana Sajjad said that there is always pressure from the applicants to seek Zakat assistance. Zakat is paid after verification; no cash handling is done for Zakat payment.

All payments are made through banks or online systems while there is a strict, transparent and fool-proof system in place of audit of the funds.

“By giving scholarships to the students of technical education, capable and skilled people are being made available to the society, who are more likely to give back and let the cycle of goodwill continue,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2021.

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