On 28th March, the PM-CARES fund was first heard about. PM CARES stands for Prime Minister’s Citizen and Assistance and Relief in an Emergency situation. The PM CARES Fund sought voluntary contributions of money for COVID-19 relief. Members of civil societies, firms, and businesses can contribute to this fund. PM Narendra Modi announced that people could contribute to the fund. This was to help the government to fight the Corona Virus.
PM CARES Fund is a Public charitable trust fund created by the Government to provide relief to people affected by the Novel Coronavirus. The head of the trust is Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. Other ex-official members of the trust are Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, and Nirmala Sitharaman. Many questions arose on the transparency of the PM Cares fund. The questions are on the creation of PM CARES fund, about the RTI queries, i.e. what is the amount of money collected, and about how the expenditure of money will happen.
Public Authority Under RTI
Kandukuri Surya Shri Harsha Teja filed a Right to Information (RTI) petition on 1st April 2020. In his PIL he asked certain questions about the PM CARES Fund’s trust deed. He asked about the government circular and details of the constitution of PM CARES Fund. Even though Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already exists, why was a second one formed? The Prime Minister’s office replied to this RTI application. It stated that under the ambit of section 2(h) of the RTI, 2005; PM Cares Fund is not a public authority.
What is Section 2(H) RTI, 2005?
Under Sec 2 in the Right to Information Act, 2005, “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted:
- by or under the constitution;
- through any other law made by parliament;
- by any other law made by the state legislature;
- by a notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.
PM CARES and PMNRF
In the presence of an appeal by the then PM Pt Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1948, the incumbent Government established the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). Citizens with a public contribution towards PMNRF are notified for 100% deduction from taxable income under Section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
PMNRF accepts voluntary contributions from individuals and institutions. Launch of PM CARES Fund was to secure donations for the fight against COVID 19. So, the question that arises here is why a separate fund is necessary? Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already exists.
However, the Government justified itself. It said that the PM CARES fund is especially for the COVID-19 pandemic, while PMNRF is for all kinds of natural disasters. Use of PMNRF is to render relief to families of those killed in natural calamities. It is also to defray the expresses for medical treatment.
Why is the Government Not Allowing the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Audit the PM CARES Fund?
The Government is not allowing the CAG to audit PM CARES Fund, as the fund is a Public Charitable Trust. PM Cares Fund will not be audited by CAG unless and until any member of the trust wants it or orders to do it. However, the PM is its head and Ex-Officio Senior Cabinet Ministers and the Finance Minister are members and the trustees of this trust.
Conclusion and Suggestions
A critical point here arises that the PM CARES Fund does not come under Public authority. This means that the government does not control it. However, if the government does not control it, then who does?
Mr S.S. Hooda had moved toward the HC without first favoring an RTI application with the PMO. Mr Hooda, who is additionally a rehearsing Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court, said: “each survivor of COVID-19 is keen on and has an option to know with regards to how much reserve has been gathered and how the equivalent is being used or is intended to be consumed.”
We live in a democracy, and such acts violate it. It is visible that there is no transparency here on behalf of the government. Stating that the PM CARES Fund does not fall under the ambit of public authority is not enough. This is not a solution and still, many answers are yet to come in a proper manner.
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