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Imran unveils Rs120 billion ‘welfare’ package

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ISLAMABAD: In view of the recent price hike, Prime Minister Imran announced Rs120 billion worth Ehsaas Rashan programme on Wednesday to provide relief to 20 million families, in his televised speech. He also hinted that fuel prices will be further increased. Overall, 130 million people will benefit nationwide, which is 53pc of the population.

Quoting rising inflation figures in Europe and the US, Imran said oil prices had risen by 100 percent in the last 3-4 months internationally, while they had increased 33pc in Pakistan. “I am already saying that petrol prices will have to be increased in the country,” he maintained. “When you say petrol is expensive, it is the cheapest in Pakistan, but we will have to increase the price because otherwise our deficit will increase and we will be further burdened by debt”. The price of oil in India is Rs250, he noted and said in Bangladesh Rs200 and in Pakistan it is selling at Rs138.

The Ehsaas Rashan will provide a subsidy of Rs1,000 a month to each of the 20 million families on the purchase of flour, pulses, ghee/cooking oil. A 30pc subsidy will be given on these three items, per unit purchase. The programme has been designed as a precision-target system of subsidy delivery focusing on deserving beneficiaries to provide financial assistance for the purchase of essential commodities at a discount through digitally processed transactions.

The federal government and all participating federating units will share fiscal resources in the ratio of 35/65. The governments of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit Baltistan and AJK have already agreed to participate in the programme.

Earlier, the federal cabinet gave approval to launch the programme across Pakistan. Although the domestic increases are being driven by rising prices in the international market, inflationary control remains an important policy objective for the government.

Referring to the opposition’s agitation against price hike, Premier Imran threw up a challenge and in an apparent reference to Zardari and Sharif families, he requested what he called the country’s two big families to bring back to Pakistan, the half of wealth, they had looted and transferred it abroad. “I promise to my nation to cut down rates of edibles by half,” he emphasized.

Prime Minister Imran said the package would be extended in the future if the conditions allowed. Overall, 130 million people will benefit from Ehsaas Rashan programme nationwide which is 53% of the population.

Apart from the package, then prime minister said that the government’s flagship Ehsaas programme worth Rs260 billion was already functioning with the aim to benefit 12 million families. He added, “We are also launching the Kamyab Pakistan (programme) with a funding of Rs1,400 billion to give interest-free loans to 4m families”.

He said the PTI government had inherited a difficult economic situation, and thanked Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China for providing the help that saved Pakistan from defaulting. He then explained that the government had to approach the IMF, “we were stabilising the country for a year and then corona came.” He lauded the NCOC for taking data-based decisions that helped Pakistan’s coronavirus fight.

“We were internationally acknowledged for being one of the few countries to deal with COVID-19 in the best manner. The government imposed small and smart lockdowns instead of completely shutting down the economy. We especially saved agriculture and construction, which create jobs in urban areas and increase exports,” he maintained.

Recounting the government’s incentives for the construction and agriculture sectors, the prime minister said the country’s economic indicators were positive while acknowledging that inflation was a major problem in the country. He also noted that the media and the opposition had the right to criticise the government but the media needs to balance and think whether inflation is rising because of our government or due to rise in prices in the international market.

Prime Minister Imran said the price of wheat in Pakistan was half of that in India and Bangladesh, stressing that the government was doing its best so that people are not burdened much. Additionally, he said, the entire population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been given health cards, while the same programme was likely to be launched in Punjab in December. He has talked to the chief minister of Balochistan that he will distribute the cards in his province.

PM Imran urged the Sindh government to ensure the provision of health insurance cards in their province so that the deserving people get a big relief. By March, all the families in Punjab will have the cards.

He said that in the last 100 years, there has not been as much crisis as the corona pandemic, countries around the world, including Pakistan, have been affected and in this phase, the NCOC has played a significant role and the economy through smart lockdown while activities continue on a limited scale. “We have spent dollars 8 billion to deal with corona, and the media needs to review its news and analysis to see if our government has pushed up inflation while the situation around the world has been bleak,” he emphasised.

PM Imran Khan said that the inflation rate in Pakistan is 9% while according to the international organisation ‘Bloomberg’, the prices of essential commodities have increased by 50%. He said that inflation in Turkey is 19%, Turkish currency is depreciating by 35%, the highest inflation in the United States and Europe since 2008.

He said that winter is coming in Pakistan and at the same time gas problem will arise. The price of natural gas in the United States has increased by about 116% and in Europe by 300% while there is no price increase in natural gas in Pakistan. He clarified that Pakistan is forced to increase the price of imported gas, the cause of inflation is global which has nothing to do with us.

PM Imran said that in view of rising prices globally, if prices were increased at the local level, the government would have benefited by Rs450 billion but we cut our ‘stomachs’ so that the people would not be burdened. He said that after the complete restoration of supply chain after winter, prices would vary dramatically.

Premier Imran said that interest-free loans would be given to 4 million families to build houses, farmers and businessmen would get interest free loans of Rs5 lakh while one member of the family would be given skills training so that he would be skilled.

He said that under the successful Pakistan programme, Rs30 billion has been given to 22,000 people to start small businesses and 200,000 people are being trained. Prime Minister Imran also appealed to industrialists and seths to increase the salaries of their employees and share their profits with labourers.

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