It was 4:51 PM on 28th March 2020, when we heard about the PM-CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund having been constituted. The Fund has its objectives in “Building capacities for quick emergency response and effective community resilience” where “use of new technology and advance research findings also become an inseparable element of such concerted action.” The Prime Minister essentially is the Chairman of the Trust, including Members (Defense Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister) that create a fine balance for a Public Charitable Trust.
In the wake of COVID-19, where the world seems to have come to a sudden and immediate halt, the cases of those infected in India seems to accelerate at the tick of a clock. The instantaneously created PM-CARES, with a probable novel cause, yet fails to convince its donors of it genuineness with the already subsisting PMNRF (Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, 1948).
As the news of this newly established fund gained momentum, so did the response to it. Individuals, Corporates, Celebrities, and various others began sharing the details and methods of contributing through Online portals. The Corporate Affairs Secretary Injeti Srinivas in an online appeal to Company Chiefs said,
“Even if you have contributed the prescribed amount towards CSR, I would like to urge you to contribute over and above the minimum prescribed amount, which can later be offset against the CSR obligation arising in subsequent years, if you so desire.”
The Government broke the news of Tax Exemption to swell up any contributions made to the PM CARES Fund before March 31, since these would qualify for 80G exemption under the Income Tax Act, 1961 (I-T Act), this Section allows donations made to specified relief funds and charitable institutions as a deduction from gross total income before arriving at taxable income. Some notable persons and entities contributing to Fund includes
President Ram Nath Kovind;
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu;
Actress Anushka Sharma and her cricketer-husband Virat Kohli;
Cricketer Suresh Raina;
Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar;
Tata Sons and Tata Trusts and so on and so forth.
Amidst all the support that PM-CARES receives, a significant entity is left unnoticed, i.e. PMNRF. An approximate amount of Rs. 3,800.44 Crore is available in the PMNRF (Offical Statement is here) through the long walk from 1948 to 2020, and what still unrests the people is how this Fund remains uncared for. The said PMNRF fund also caters to the need for Natural Disasters such as earthquakes, flood, and other calamities unforeseeable, however, PM Narendra Modi is compelled due to COVID-19, to create a fresh Fund exclusively for this Pandemic, while the funds remain unused. The PM-CARES is a smartly designed acronym to attract both the Micro donors and others, for the disaster management. The inherent predicament in this newly established PM-CARES Fund is more than two-fold since it concerns the nature of the institution in form of a public charitable trust which may be highlighted herein briefly.
Firstly, what is noteworthy, is that the trust (as a legal entity), is epitomised to benefit the public, and a trustee is duty-bound to manage the trust properties in accordance with the trust deed, however in this case we notice how this Fund remains out of the “public domain”.
Secondly, it is verified that in many Common Law jurisdictions, political or legal campaigns for charitable trusts is not permitted, since charitable trusts are administered by trustees but there is no relationship between the trustee and beneficiaries, but in this case, there is a relationship, as the Trustees are elected by the Beneficiaries.
Thirdly, the Citizens of the country ought to know the Due-Process for creating the Fund, a trust deed generally is inclusive of the objects, rules and regulations for the operation of the trust, and is to be registered, through the Registration Act, 1908 and Income Tax Act, 1961, however, transparency seems to have been bypassed in the creation process.
These questions raised about were realised by some as controversial upon which many Media houses aimed to settle the purpose and objectives of the PM-CARES Fund. The justification coming from the Government sources is that while PMNRF is for all kinds of natural disasters, PM CARES fund is specially meant for COVID-19 and similar pandemic situations. As for the question of the Trust, some have spoken that since the PM is the chairman of the trust and defence minister, home minister and finance minister are its members, legal issues like registration of the trust, etc will hardly be an issue.
To conclude, it can be sadly observed that through providing the Government and other related personas an exemption, from their duties to answer questions faithfully, through self-judgment can be extremely ignorant and unintelligent. The wake of this Pandemic has been unfortunate but let it not affect the quality of the judgments that we make.
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