As part of the larger initiative to provide a buffer against rising inflation, the Utility Stores Corporation of Pakistan (USC) announced a Ramzan Relief Package through which 19 staple food items would be sold at subsidised rates in over 4000 outlets across the country. This is an essential part of the spirit of Ramzan and each year, the government makes efforts towards easing the financial burden on the underprivileged. However, some issues like severely limited rations, unavailability of goods and a cumbersome process remain to be addressed and resolved.

The way the relief package works is that citizens are able to avail food subsidies worth Rs3000 from any utility store by showing their CNIC. Each of these stores promises to sell vital food items below market rates in order to improve food security. For instance, a 20kgs of flour would be priced at Rs950 instead of Rs1350, sugar would be offered at Rs85 per kilogram instead of Rs93 and oil is sold at Rs240 instead of Rs470. On the face of it, these margins look minute but each rupee that is saved has the potential to improve the financial well-being of households. If nothing else, it provides enough of a buffer to give them a sense of security and reiterate that the government has their interests at heart. Thus, such initiatives must always be appreciated and carried forward to the future.

While one should give credit where it is due, self-reflection is also important and upon assessing the practical implementation of this package, some problems surface. The process of submitting a copy of one’s CNIC makes the entire process cumbersome. It further makes it time-consuming which adversely impacts the people waiting towards the end of the line. There have been complaints that a large number of people simply do not get access to the staple goods because utility stores run out. This should be unacceptable, especially in far-flung areas where there are no other utility stores nearby. Supply should not be exhausted but instead should be steady. Lastly, there is also a problem with the standardisation of rations. One set quantity may not be enough to provide for a large family.

While commending the intention with which the package was announced, as well as the millions of people it has helped in some way or form, we should also be cognisant of the changes that can be made to improve the system. A little more work will ensure that the entire prospect is worth it for the people.