The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court heard a PIL filed by Advocate Arvind K. Waghmare. The petitioner prays for the disclosure of the amount collected in the PM-CARES fund. Additionally, he requests its audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India.
Contentions of the Petitioner
The petitioner insisted on directions on the PM-CARES fund created by the Union Cabinet on 28.03.2020. He sought details about the Public Charitable Trust created via a Trust Deed. However, the PIL clarified that it does not seek to challenge the validity of the fund or request a probe. In this, it differs from the various other PILs filed at the Apex Court on it. Thus, the principle of res judicata does not come into play.
The PIL stated that the petitioner had full right to know about its exact position. This was because of him being a citizen of India and a small donor to the fund. The petition also listed the donations made which included Rs. 1500 crores by Tata Groups, Rs. 1125 by Aziz Premji Foundations and Rs. 500 crores collectively by the Army, Navy and Air Force. Besides, government employees donated one day’s payment of their salaries toward the same. It submitted that according to the reports, the fund had generated an amount of more than Rs.6500 crores in 7 days. Hence, the petition estimated that the fund has approximately collected Rs. 50000-100000 crores till date. In addition, there was direction of the grants of USD 2.9 million from USA and USD 1.5 Billion to the fund. Yet, the citizens are not aware about the collection of the fund created to fight the pandemic.
Prayer of the Petitioner
The Hon’ble Prime Minister is the chairperson of the fund. He can nominate 3 Trustees from the field of research, health, science etc. to the fund. However, the same is not done. The PIL stated that a public charitable trust cannot run without full Board of Trustees. This is against the settled judicial norms. Thus, the petition deemed it necessary to direct the government to nominate them. The PIL also prayed that two such members should be from opposition parties at Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This is a must to establish transparency and have a proper check balance.
The petition also highlighted the current migrant crisis ongoing in the country. Lakhs of migrant labours remain stranded in different parts of the country. They have lost their lives due to lack of food and transport. It brought to notice the recent incident at Aurangabad-Jalana Railway Track on 08.05.2020. It has claimed the lives of 15 laborers. The PIL submitted that the under-privileged class was not taken care of. This was despite having crores of rupees in the PM-CARES fund. It stated that the trust failed to provide required help to the affected population.
The petition prayed to immediately make public the amount generated in the fund. This should be by uploading of data on the official website of pmcares.gov.in. This will strengthen trust, worthiness and confidence in the fund. The PIL prayed for directions for weekly updates on the donations and expenditures. The fund must disclose both on the public domain. It states that the CAG holds necessary powers to audit the fund. Hence, the Court must empower the CAG to do the same, instead of independent entities. The PIL urged that there is a possibility of mishandling of the fund. This was possible if the directions requested are not made available .
The Bench has on June 2 issued a notice to the UOI. It is via the principal secretaries of Home, Defence and Finance ministries. The Court has called them in their capacity as ex-officio members of the PM-CARES fund. The Court gave the UOI two weeks to reply.
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