PMO: PM CARES Fund Not a “Public Authority” Under RTI: Is it a Suspicious Action of the Government?

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An RTI was filed seeking the details of PM CARES fund. In response the PMO stated PM CARES does not come under the ambit of “Public Authority” under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Introduction 

Considering the ongoing crisis due to the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) saw invocation. Thus, on March 28th 2020 Modi government announced Prime Minister’s Citizen Help and Relief in Emergency Situation (PM CARES) Fund which accepted donations to fight the pandemic.

As a result of the confusion, an RTI filed to seek details of the fund and creation of PM CARES when PMNRF already existed. The RTI application questioned the following:

1) The total sum collected in the fund to date 

2) Amount collected by the fund in the previous two months

3) The PAN details provided to open the PM CARES Fund.

4) Details of the total sum of money spent on PM CARES Fund until today and;

5) The details of the person known to have deposited the highest amount to the fund. 

Who filed the RTI application?

The Right to Information (RTI) filed by Harsha Kandukuri, a law student from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. Kandukuri, in filing the RTI application sought details of constituting PM CARES when PMNRF already existed. Furthermore, he asked for the fund’s trust deed copies and some government orders related to the creation and functioning of the fund. 

In response to this RTI application, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stated that under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI, 2005; PM CARES is not a “public authority”. Nonetheless, PMO also stated that relevant information concerning the fund is available on the website pmcares.gov.in. According to a report released by Live Law, no such information was available on the site. 

What is a Public Authority under RTI? 

The scope of “public authority” is under Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2005. A public authority under RTI is an authority or a body or can even be an institution recognized or constituted:

1) By or under the Constitution of India

2) Or by any other law enacted by the parliament.

3) By any law prepared by the state legislature.

4) By issuance of an order or notification made by the appropriate government.

Timeline of Events 

Early 2012

Mr Aseem Takyar files an RTI seeking details of donors and beneficiaries to the PMNRF from 2009 to 2011. The fund denied information and stated it does not come under the domain of public interest and can also cause “unwarranted invasion” to the privacy of donor and beneficiaries.

June 24th 2012

Finally, after making many appeals against the denial of information by the PMNRF, Takyar urged for transparency in the working of PMNRF and approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) for the same. Therefore, in line with the views put forth by Takyar, CIC stated that details of the institutional donors should be public. Yet, it did not support the idea of disclosing the details of public beneficiaries.

Late 2012

Following the decision of the CIC, an appeal made by PMNRF stated where they placed the contention about them being not liable in to disclose the information about the donors and the beneficiary as PMNRF doesn’t come under the domain of “public authority”.

May 21st 2018

The judgment delivered on the matter pointed out that both the judges had different opinions on the issue. Justice Ravindra Bhat stated that PMNRF comes under the ambit of “public authority” and the same should be subject to public scrutiny. But, Justice Sunil Gaur gave a dissenting opinion by stating PMNRF does not fall under the domain of “public authority” and thus, it cannot share any kind of information. 

September 12th 2018

After the dissenting opinion in the judgment, Chief Justice of Delhi High Court asked to refer the matter to a third judge, and the same is on the list for hearing on July 15th 2020.

Questions raised by Significant Personalities on PM-CARES 

  • Sonia Gandhi- In her letter to the Prime Minister, stated that all the funds raised by way of PM CARES should immediately be transferred to PMNRF to safeguard competency, responsibility, transparency, efficiency and audit in the manner these funds were allotted and the way they are being spent. 
  • Aseem Takyar- Activist Aseem Takyar stated he would file an RTI to seek information about PM CARES so that transparency and accountability can be ensured.
  • HuffPost India- HuffPost India, an online legal portal, questioned the Modi government if at all it is planning to disclose the details of the donors and the beneficiaries of PM CARES. If the government anticipates a response  to this query, the portal needs to have all the required information.

Author’s Note: Suspicions of the likelihood of a Scam 

In the recent events where the status of “public authority” has been denied to PM CARES, there can be a reasonable inference drawn to the fact that it is not controlled by the government of India. Consequently, the critical question which arises here is- then who is controlling it? 

Furthermore, the public is unaware of many important aspects like the functioning of the trust, decision-making process in addition to the faith, measures taken to safeguard the fund and to give assurance that the fund is not misused so far. The public doesn’t know the answer to any of these questions. Hence, this acts as a big blow to transparency in working and upholding democratic values. 

Thus, dragging the attention of the public to the ongoing controversy shows that there exists a dire need to address such matters. Merely stating the fact that PM CARES does not fall under “Public Authority” is not a solution to the problem. Furthermore, many events, like the name, configuration of the trust, domain name of the government, suggest that the fund be a public authority. But the government continues to deny this fact and therefore, continues to build a wall of secrecy around the working of PM CARES.


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