Poverty Alleviation: A Constitutional Obligation

“If you feel pain, you’re alive. If you feel other people’s pain, you’re a human being.”

  (Leo Tolstoy)

The State is symbolized as a mother, whereas citizens are depicted as its children. The central idea behind such depiction is that the former, like a mother, always feels pain of the latter and tries its best to relieve the sufferings.  And the suffering is alleviated through a social and legal contract between the state and the citizens and the contract is called the Constitution. Pakistan celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its 1973’s constitution on 10th April 2023, having completed 50 years of the after completing its fifty years.

The constitution is considered to be a living document and guarantor of social contract between the citizens and the state. It also aims to meet people’s hope and aspiration by proclaiming their fundamental rights.  For instance, Article 38 of the 1973 constitution puts emphasis on improving the socio-economic conditions and well being of the citizens. It further says that providing basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical facility to each and every member of the society is obligatory on the state and its organs. The constitution also makes the state responsible that disparity in income and earning among all strata of the society need to be addressed. It also proclaimed to have a ban on accumulation of wealth in few hands.

The constitution has declared Pakistan as a welfare state but unfortunately successive regimes both civilian and military haven failed to eradicate poverty; educate its youth; develop skilled labour force and to facilitate its citizens with basic health care amenities. For example, World Bank report portrayed a gloomy picture as Global Hunger Index, ranked Pakistan at 92 out of 116 countries. Furthermore, over 72 million Pakistani are food insecure which means that they don’t fulfill their dietary requirements. Moreover, Article 25-A- of the constitution guaranteed free educations to all children of age bracket (5 to 16) but 22.23 million children are still out of schools. The aforesaid data shows clear indication of the apathy and negligence being shown by our rulers of past and present towards fulfilling their constitutional obligations.

Sources of income generation in the country is shrinking as investors afraid of investing due to uncertain political, economic and security situations and that led to augment of import bills and decline of export which created a huge gap between balance of payments with trading partners. Whereas government expenditure has risen to manifolds and still keep piling to an irreversible level. Budget is always in deficit in every financial year and to fill the fiscal gaps, successive governments used to borrow money from national, international and multinational financial institutions and friendly countries and it is going on till today. Similarly, our elite class such as politicians, bureaucrats, generals, judges, feudals, media houses; business tycoons and industrialists are also consuming national exchequer lavishly by availing excessive perks and privileges, unnecessary protocols, write off their bank loans; allotment of properties and indulged in rampant corruption.

However, some cosmetic and ad-hoc base strategies on poverty reduction were being experienced in the past and present by granting charity and subsidies; by giving away BISP and Ahsas cash programme; by providing cheap bread; by opening langar khanas and by distributing free sack of flour among the ordinary masses. This type of policy and programme is not helpful in eradicating poverty for ever; rather it creates lethargic attitude among masses and at the same time it hurts their self-esteem and dignity as well. On the other hand, Article/14 of the constitution has guaranteed by taking care of every citizen’s dignity at any cost. Hence, provision of free support in terms of cash and materials could eventually increase the population of begging force rather than labouring force.  In this regard, a famous maxim goes, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for lifetime.”

Nevertheless, there are vital lessons for our ruling elite to learn from the rulers of other countries in the region that how they uplifted their citizenry from below poverty line. For example, Bangladesh which was once part of Pakistan before 1971 has also made significant progress with amazing success story in poverty reduction. For example, World Bank Report stated that Bangladesh was once the poorest country in its early ages but it grabbed the status of lower middle income nation in 2015 and the journey of its progress is going on due to their visionary, vibrant and empathetic leadership with good governance.

One of the major sources of wealth generation in Bangladesh was the higher growth rate of the Ready Made Garment Factories (RMGF) that accommodated huge chunk of underprivileged population especially women. World Bank survey report in 2021 revealed that 37% Bangladeshi women participated in labour force whereas the ratio of women participation in economic activities in Pakistan was reported around 25 percent. RMGF is now a major source of foreign exchange earnings in Bangladesh as around $ 29 billion worth of manufactured goods are exported annually and that is contributing to the economic growth of the country as well.

Whereas the way forward to reduce poverty in our country is to revamp governance structures at strategic thinking level by framing viable policies and ensuring them to execute for the welfare of the common masses. Next, right person need to be inducted at the right place in all ministries and departments with strict employee’s performance evaluation policies in place. Promotions of employees in all departments must be linked with performance. Miss use of authority in financial and human resource management must be penalized as per governing rules and regulations. Moreover, all types of malpractices i.e. corruption, professional dishonesty; nepotism, favouritism, red tapism, gambling, bribery, black marketing, adultery, profiteering and smuggling must be curbed with iron hand irrespective of status, caste, creed and colour. Good performance of heads of departments and employees should also be acknowledged and rewarded. 

Next, vibrant agriculture policies is quite critical as the land is fertile with suitable climate to produce double and even triple crops in a year that could not only feed its dwellers throughout the year but can be a vital source of earning foreign exchange. Alongside small, medium and large sized manufacturing industries establishment of high tech value laden software industries are quite crucial that could generate employment opportunities and supplement to foreign exchange reserve.

Furthermore, curriculum at school and tertiary level need to be revitalized by integrating modern technologies; innovative ideas; technical and vocational skills; injecting STEM projects, initiating entrepreneurship concepts and ICT programmes in order to catch up with modern labour market requirements. Ultra poor families should also be assisted with targeted subsidies in food items with provision of free quality education to their children along with  free health care amenities.

Finally, the physical feature of Pakistan is unique with amazing scenic beauty; with four colorful spectacular seasons; having gigantic mountain ranges in the north with largest stock of glaciers outside poles; mesmerizing beauty of pristine lakes with lush green pastures are the gifted bounties of Nature. In addition to that rich and diverse cultural heritages and Archeological sites such as Indus Valley Civilization are some of the worth seeing places that could attract tourists from inland and abroad. In short, government can exploit its strategic location by creating tourist friendly policies; ensuring safety measures and developing modern infrastructure to promote tourism industry as a potential source of income generation for poverty alleviation. 

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