ISLAMABAD - The government has announced generous subsidies for the month of Ramazan but the major chunk of this subsidy would remain unutilised as most of the rural population of the country is not be included in the aid, due to administrative reasons.

The federal government is providing over Rs1.6 billion subsidy on 19 commodities to provide relief to the general public during the holy month. These subsidies have been given through 5500 utility stores spread across the country. There are 9 zonal offices including Islamabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Sarghodha, Multan, Sukhur, Karachi, Quetta and Lahore. Quetta zonal office controls around 300 utility stores in Balochistan while there are 550 under administrative control of Karachi, and 480 in Sukhur, Sindh.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are 850 stores under the control of Peshawar zonal office. Jurisdiction of Peshawar office is spread from Charsada to DI Khan. In Punjab, the number of stores is maximum. Under Sarghoda zonal office there are 700 stores, in Multan 780, and under Lahore there are 660 Utility Stores.

The most of the utility stores are in cities and thickly populated areas due to commercial viability. The population living in thinly populated areas has no access to the subsidised items. “We have to travel long distances to reach Utility stores, our traveling cost is more than the subsidy,” said Rao Afsar, a resident of Tehsil Rajan Pur. He said there are 69 union councils in Tehsil Rajan Pur, out of which more than 80 percent are rural. In addition to 1.6 billion federal government subsidies, the Punjab government is providing a Ramazan Package worth Rs9 billion in efforts to provide relief to those affected by increased prices. A subsidy of Rs8.78 billion has been given to the provision of subsidised flour and rice.

The subsidy is provided through the deputy commissioners, who spend all grant on urban areas and the large population remains unattended, said Rana Amjad Ali of Khangarh. More than 90 percent of 82 Union Councils of Muzaffargarh fall in rural area. From decades the rural population has been ignored, said Abu Bakar Sial of Pul Chak Shikari. He said the local activist went to the high court also but despite the directions of superior court, the district administration did nothing.

According to the order sheet of Lahore High Court writ petition number 10125/2015, court directed the government to include rural population in subsidised schemes. The petitioner Rao Afsar, an official of anjumane sarfeen, said that the Punjab government has provided heavy subsidy for Ramazan bazar to provide essential commodities to public at low rates. He said in southern Punjab’s Rajan Pur, more than 70 percent of population lives in villages and according to international reports the rural population is suffering from up to 3 percent more poverty as compare to urban population.

He said due to absence of utility stores the government subsidy is not available for the 80 percent of the total population living in villages. The RajanPur district monitoring officer said that low rate food items are provided to locals through five Ramazan bazars. He told the court that as the village population is scattered it is not possible for the management to provide subsidised items to general public.

The court after through deliberations directed the administration to provide all subsidies to rural areas also but despite the court orders most of the rural population is still not receiving any discounts in the holy month. The situation is worse in interior Sindh and Balochsitan, an insider told the scribe. He said except Punjab and main cities there is no mechanism to provide low rate items to rural population.

The Ministry of Industries admits it is providing most of the subsidies to urban population. When probed it was learnt that from Southern Punjab to Interior Sindh and almost all the union councils of Balochistan are marked as high risk areas, in the books of Utility Stores Corporation, where business outlets are not feasible. It was learnt that the provincial governments have directed district administration to provide relief package to all Union Councils, but the local administration does not bother. The reasons are difficult and expensive approach to far flung areas and any service to rural population does not reflect in their annual Confidential Reports. It was learnt that after the holy month the district administration conveniently spend the relief funds on the visits of politicians or the funds simply lapse, providing a golden opportunity to the government to flash more generous package next year on TV screens.