The federal government has announced a Rs60 billion budget for its flagship programme for the support of the poverty stricken, called the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which is Rs40 billion or 40% less than the requirements for the next fiscal year.
An additional amount of around Rs10 billion will also be spent on subsidies to be provided to BISP beneficiaries through utility stores across the country.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh announced that allocation to BISP would be enhanced from Rs50 billion this year to Rs70 billion next year, an increase of 40 per cent. In Gilgit-Baltistan, financial support would be provided to 50,000 households under this programme every month, he said.
The government had initiated the income support programme in 2008-09 with an initial allocation of Rs34 billion.
Earlier, the BISP management sought a significant increase in allocation to expand the prorgramme in the next fiscal year 2012-13. On the directives of BISP chairperson Farzana Raja, the management asked for around Rs100 billion for various projects including those being kicked off for poor women.
According to the new plan, the government will spend Rs48.8 billion from its own resources while the remaining amount will be sought from foreign donors.
The finance minister also said the programme will cover nearly seven million vulnerable households with a provision of Rs12,000 to each household every year.
Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, Bait-ul-Maal, Citizen Damage Compensation Programme and low mark-up loans for farmers were some of the other programmes through which billions of rupees of additional funds had been provided to mitigate the sufferings of the poor, he added.
In the last four years, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government has spent Rs138 billion on BISP. However, it has continued to struggle to come up to expectations and has missed the target for three consecutive years. The target remains between five million and seven million households, but the programme has not gone beyond 3.6 million families.
The World Bank has recently signed a $150 million loan agreement with Pakistan for strengthening and expanding the reach of BISP. The bank has linked disbursements with expansion of the coverage from 3.6 million to five million families.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2012.
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