PM CARES Fund stands for ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’. It was set up with the primary aim of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation. Especially, like posed by Covid-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected. The Fund is to provide aid in case of future crises as well. One can donate to the Fund through various means and it has a separate website for the same as well.
Three key objectives of the fund are:
- To aid relief in a public health emergency or any kind of calamity or distress, either man-made or natural. This includes the creation or up-gradation of healthcare or medical facilities.
- To provide financial aid, or take necessary steps as per the direction of the Board of Trustees.
- To take up such activities that are not in conflict with the Fund’s objectives.
What constitutes PM CARES Fund?
The PM CARE Fund constitutes of
- Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund. Moreover, Defence Minister, Home Minister, Finance Minister, and GoI are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
- The power to nominate three Trustees to the Board of Trustees rests with the Chairman. These Trustees must be eminent persons in the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy.
- A person appointed as a Trustee must act in pro bono capacity.
- Voluntary contributions from individuals/organizations form the Fund. It does not get any budgetary support and used in meeting the above-mentioned goals.
- Donations to PM CARES Fund comes under 80G benefits for 100% exemption under the Income Tax Act,1961. These donations are also counted as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under the Companies Act, 2013.
- PM CARES Fund is also exempted under the FCRA and has a separate account for receiving foreign donations. It is consistent with regards to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). PMNRF since 2011 has also received foreign contributions as a public trust.
How much did PM CARES Fund collect?
As per an article dated 19th May 2020, PM CARES Fund collected Rs. 10,600 Crore in less than 2 months. Of this collection, contributions from the private sector and its employees account for 53%. The PSUs and their employees account for 42% and the rest 5% came from the individual entities.
A whopping donation of Rs. 1500 Crore by the TATA Trusts and Rs. 1000 Crore from Azim Premji Foundation made headlines amongst all.
Apart from PM CARES AND PMNRF, there are other sources of money designated for Covid-19 relief as well. Eg: Rs. 7,800 Crore that was available to members of parliament under the MPLADS scheme. The government took over this money and the cabinet made MPLADS funds non-operational for a period of two years. Moreover, the government also reduced the salaries and allowances of parliamentarians by 30% for one year.
Apart from this, other organisations also made donations in kind. Eg: The Indian Red Cross Society donated ventilators, masks, PPEs, and test kits valued Rs. 505 Crore. The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) also provided masks, cooked meals, dry ration, PPE, etc.
PM CARES Fund and the Controversies
On 1st April 2020, Harsha Kandukuri, a student of the Azim Premji University, Bangalore filed an RTI application. The application sought PMO to provide the Fund’s trust deed and all government orders related to its creation and operation.
Post this, a Hyderabad based activist names S Q Maqsood filed another RTI application. He sought a copy of the bylaws of the PM CARES Fund, bank statements, and data about the staff working for it. The RTI application also sought state-wise allocation of the PM CARES Fund. This application was also rejected on the ground that Fund was not a public authority. He was instead asked to visit the website for further information.
Besides, it was already stated by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) that it will not audit the PM CARES Fund. CAG said, “Since the fund is based on donations of individuals and organisations, it will not have any right to audit the same.”
On 11th June 2020, the PM CARES Fund updated its website in response to FAQs on the auditor of the Fund. The website claimed that Fund appointed the independent auditor on 23rd April 2020. But, the same got published on 11th June which indeed raises certain questions. PM CARES Fund appointed SARC & Associates as its independent auditor headed by Mr. Sunil Kumar Gupta.
Many people claimed that Mr. Gupta had previous links with the Modi government. He has also published a book on ‘Make in India’ initiative and it has various photos of himself posing with BJP leaders. He is also linked with Rashtriya Antyodaya Sangh (RAS), a Delhi-based NGO. The BJP-led government in Uttarakhand has largely supported RAS activities. Gupta even tweeted on 7th September 2018 about attending the World Hindu Congress in Chicago. It is interesting to note that a key speaker in this conference was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
All these incidents about links of PM CARES auditor and BJP puts a question mark on the Fund.
Recently, an NGO named Centre for Public Interest Litigation filed a petition in the Supreme Court. The petitioner claimed that the Centre has been hiding the information about the collection of PM CARES Fund till date. It also urged the court to direct the Centre to:
- Notify, and
- Implement a national plan under the Disaster Management Act to deal with the crisis.
Even though from its composition, presentation and website it seems that it is a public authority. But, with PMO stating that PM CARES is not a ‘public authority’ creates heavy speculations. Does this mean the same is not controlled by the government? If so, them who is the in-charge of PM CARES Fund?
Lack of replies on the government part and denial of reply to RTIs raises certain questions on its transparency. The government should take accountability and answer all the questions. Moreover, anyone can misuse the money without any proper checks at place. But, the recent intrusion of the judiciary might keep government at toes. Yet, the lack of transparency in such a big initiative is a big blow to democracy and constitutional values of the country.