Daily The Business

Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme may expose millions to COVID-19

Experts urge authorities to be ultra vigilant amid cash disbursement among the needy families

By K A Mian

LAHORE: Around 12million poorest families hailing from all over the country are likely to be exposed to COVID-19 as the people seeking financial assistance of emergency cash of Rs1,2000 each must have to come out of their residences at the nominated banks to receive the cash under Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme on account of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Daily The Business has leant here on Wednesday.

According to the notification, a copy of which is available with this scribe, the Federal Government Ehsaas Emergency Cash Transfer Programme has been launched to help the poorest families affected by the current virus situation. The emergency cash disbursements will start from today (Thursday), read the letter.

In order to maintain non-stop disbursements to the vulnerable families, a directive may be issued to allow Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and Bank Alfalah Limited (BAFL) to keep their branches banking operations and relevant branches open on Saturdays and Sundays in April 2020, so that maximum numbers of the families get the financial relief, wrote in the order.

It is also mentioned in a letter that opening branches on the weekend would also help resolve the liquidity problems faced by the Pont of Sale (POS) agents. In this regard, branches openings hours for both banks may be changed from 10 am to 8 am for the next three weeks to facilitate the POS agents withdraw the cash early and beneficiaries start receiving the payments immediately, the letter further read.

Observes are of the view that the federal government is going to bring out around 12 million people, including women with other expecting ‘supportive’ members from their homes in the present situation may cause more harm than the good.

They said that all educational institutions, business, markets, factories, transport and others have been locked down to avoid the possible spread of coronavirus across the county and such a huge influx, if not managed properly, may damage the cause of the lockdown. They, however, suggested the government be ultra-vigilant.

Separately, according to the opinion of a health expert, if any beneficiary may be carrying the coronavirus, then she would certainly transmit to others during the possible massive gatherings outside the designated points of sale agents, banks and other public places, BISP official sources stated this while talking to this scribe.

The sources said that all payment would be made via Ehsaas Digital Payment System after biometric verification to ensure the transparency in the payments through over 18,065 sales points or branches of Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and Bank Al-Falah across Pakistan. At the same time, when the biometric attendances from all public and private institutions, companies, banks, etc, had been suspended immediately to avoid the spreading and locally transmitting coronavirus and to keep citizens throughout the country.

The sources further said all the directors and assistant directors and other concerned quarters have also been directed to monitor the designated branches, retail shops and POS agents across the country as well in Punjab. The official vowed that the Headquarters neither provided any safety kits, and all other relevant material to save themselves and management is pushing the officers and officials towards direct life threat.

At present, the number of coronavirus cases is rapidly increasing in the country and especially in the Punjab, which is alarming and highly dangerous to contain and counter the further spread of coronavirus on war-footing. In this connection, the Punjab government had extended the date of lockdown up to April 14, 2020, to ensure public safety, conserve lives, maintain peace, and tranquility in the province of Punjab.

Similarly, all provincial governments had also imposed section 144 to ensure the social distance, advising people to ‘Stay-at-home’ to protect the citizens from coronavirus. Meanwhile, the present health system of the country has also been facing a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), including test kits, etc to manage the corona patients across the country.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection and Chairperson BISP, Dr Sania Nishtar while talking to media confirmed that the financial assistance of Rs 12,000 would be given to 12 million families through a transparent method. She also said that the said money disbursement would be started from Thursday (today), adding that the Rs 12,000 cash would be provided to only one person of a family while all family members are applying for getting this financial assistance.

Health experts and resources suggested that the BISE should be made all payments through Pakistan Post Office (PPO) in the present scenario to avoid the possibility of the spread of coronavirus as it has easy access to timely delivery of mail, money and material at the doorsteps of the customers at the affordable cost and then it could be ensured the cash delivery at each beneficiary’ doorsteps even in far-furlong areas.

When this reporter contacted the spokesperson of the Programme, Dr Sania Nishtar, she said that “Dr Nishtar will hold a press conference soon and all your queries will be answered hopefully”.

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