After travelling a distance of more than 80 kilometres to fetch their Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) ATM cards and spending a night or two in a queue, BISP beneficiaries from Upper Swat ended up spending more cash than the scheme dispenses in a month.
Grant recipients from Gabral, Utror, Kalam, Ushu, Matiltan, Pishmal, Mankyal, Bahrain, Madyan and other villages have to traverse long distances to collect their cards.
Registered families receive cash assistance of Rs1,000 per month on a quarterly basis from the scheme. The BISP smart debit card scheme was launched in 2012 after several hiccups in the postal distribution method.
“I came from Utror and travelled for six hours to reach here (Khawazakhela). On the first day I was unable to get the card, so I spent the night here under the open sky. Being short on money, I couldn’t even have breakfast,” an elderly woman told The Express Tribune who seemed visibly exhausted waiting in a queue to receive her card.
Getting to Khawazakhela is by no means an easy task. More so for the majority of the BISP recipients who are senior citizens, often frail and ailing. They first have to walk for several hours to reach public transport, after which they are on the road for five or six hours before they reach the BISP office. Travelling long distances on rough roads and spending nights on their own is difficult for them, not to mention costly. Even though collecting the ATM cards is a one-off effort, BISP recipients demand the government open administrative centres situated closer to their areas.
“If the government wants to provide us with relief, they should allow us to receive their help with ease. It was very difficult to reach here and I am worried about my return journey home because I am unwell and feel very weak,” said Sabzara bibi, another senior citizen. Sabzara sat in the shade for some rest after finally receiving her card.
“We had to spend more than the amount we get from the scheme as we live in hilly areas – Kalam is the nearest station for us. The government should at least open an office in Bahrain which is the major administrative centre for our areas,” Izhar Khan, a resident of Kalam said.
However, BISP employees have an entirely different outlook on the situation.
According to officials, there is a BISP office in Bahrain but due to the unavailability of DSL internet lines they are unable to issue ATM cards.
“The whole process is done through the internet since the beneficiary record is verified from the National Databa se and Registration Authority online and then it goes to a bank for additional processing. Without the internet, cards cannot be delivered,” said a BISP Khawazakhela official requesting anonymity.
“Therefore, all those coming from Upper Swat have to come to our office.”
He added the delivery of ATM cards will begin once DSL lines are installed in the area.
The BISP official went on to say they extended their timings to work longer hours for the benefit of those coming from Kalam, Utoror and other areas. The Khawazakhela office delivers more than 500 cards daily.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2013.