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Benazir Income Support Program in Nankana Sahib: Women speak out on bribery and hardships

Sadaqat Ali

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Benazir Income Support Program in Nankana Sahib: Women speak out on bribery and hardships

Sadaqat Ali

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Read In Urdu

Farzana Bibi from Nankana Sahib and her two children arrived at the Benazir Income Support Program office at six in the morning. They live in Khairpur Khuni village, which is 20 km from the city. Her husband is visually impaired, and they lack a source of income. Due to this, they have sought government assistance from the BISP office.

Farzana Bibi says the program's survey team visited her house three months ago. They observed her family's situation and promised to start providing support within a month. However, there has yet to be any progress in that regard so far.

"For the past three months, I've been visiting the office, but meeting the officials has been challenging due to the rush, and I had to return without talking to them. They told me a few times that my verification process is incomplete."

She mentions that she barely earns a living through sewing and embroidery. Her entire day gets wasted when she has to visit the program office. Moreover, she has to take a day off from work and pay the fare separately for the trip.

According to the 2017 census, Nankana Sahib’s population is 1.35 million. Official statistics reveal that in 2019, around 20 thousand women received assistance from the Benazir Income Support Program, which increased to 30 thousand in four years.

Women who qualify for the program receive eight and a half thousand rupees every three months.

When a woman applies to join the program, the team visits her home to conduct a survey. They assess the family's financial condition and submit their proposal to the program office. Once the eligibility is verified, the applicant is registered in the program.

The BISP Office in Nankana receives 1500 to 1800 new applications every month. It takes two to three months to check and survey them.

The office reports 3,220 pending applications received in May and June. These applications are currently under examination.

However, vetting and registering applicants isn't straightforward and transparent.

Razia Bibi from Warburton, a village near Nankana, supports her three children by working in people's homes. She says she has been visiting the office for six months to get her house surveyed, but every time she is told to come back 'next week'.

“When I reached the office a few days ago, someone said, "There is no point in going around, Bibi. If a survey is to be done, it will cost two thousand rupees." I told him that I am a widow and no one else is earning; how can I afford so much money? After much discussion, he agreed to 1,000 rupees."

Razia Bibi says the survey team came to her house the next day. But once again, the officials are demanding a bribe to release the aid money, and she doesn't have any more money to give.

Aamir Ali, who conducts surveys for the Benazir Income Support Program in Nankana Sahib, denies the bribery allegation. He explains that the study is conducted in the assigned area, and there is a verification process after the survey.

As per the office records, over 30,000 registered women in Nankana Sahib receive an instalment of eight and a half thousand rupees every three months from the registered mobile shop.

Earlier, women beneficiaries were issued ATM cards, but due to increasing incidents of fraud in withdrawing money, the cards were closed a year ago. Now, the aid money is transferred to their ID cards, and the mobile phone dealers give it to the women after verifying it through a biometric machine.

However, the women complain that the dealers deduct money from their payments at the time of disbursement.

Meeraj Bibi from Syedwala, about 35 km from Nankana Sahib, has received aid money from this program for three years. However, she complains that the dealer deducts five hundred rupees from her payment when she goes to a mobile shop in Syedwala to withdraw the money.

"When I ask for the full amount, they say, 'Nankana sir, pay the rent and go, you'll get the full amount there, but here there's a fee.' I have no choice but to accept the deduction."

Due to complaints of undue deduction and women facing hardships, the BISP administration has established facility centres in seven schools in district Nankana Sahib for transparent money distribution. Each centre is staffed with three to four police officers from the Security District Police to ensure security.

The provision to facilitate women at these centres is inadequate, and they must stand in long queues under the hot sun to receive help. Recently, a woman named Bushra fainted due to the heat while standing in a row and had to be taken to DHQ Hospital for medical assistance.

Nazeeran Bibi came to the convenience centre at Primary School No. 1 on Railway Road and was initially happy because she thought she wouldn't have to pay extra money at the mobile shop. However, her happiness turned out to be short-lived.

"When I went to the facility centre, the policeman on duty asked for a bribe of Rs. 1,000 to let me in. I refused, so I had to stand outside the school. Meanwhile, the women who paid the money were getting the aid without waiting in the queue."

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She says that when many women gathered outside the centre, they all shouted and protested. Only then were they given the money. They would never have come here if they knew they would face so much difficulty getting the money.

Deputy Director of BISP Nankana Sahib, Tayyaba Yasmin, says that the organisation provides all services free of cost, from surveys to aid money collection. If any office or registered mobile shop is reportedly involved in bribery or deducting money from the total amount, action will be taken against them.

She says there have been complaints against 25 mobile shops in the last three months. In response, they have blocked the IDs of those shopkeepers, and the extorted money has been returned to the women.

She says that the DPO had directed an inquiry and departmental action against the police officers due to complaints of bribery at facility centres.

Published on 1 Aug 2023

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