The Full Bench comprised of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice M.R Shah, that held that there is no prohibition on any contribution to the NDRF. Also, the two funds are different, hence a transfer of money from one to the other is not possible.
Brief facts of the case
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 (“the Act”) was enacted to bring requisite institutional mechanisms for drawing up and monitoring the implementation of the Disaster Management Plans. It was also aimed at providing measures for preventing and mitigating the effects of disasters.
This Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It seeks to direct the government to install a National Plan under Section 11 read with Section 10 of the Act. This is to deal with the current pandemic (Covid-19) and to lay standard measures of relief to persons affected with COVID-19.
It also seeks permission to use the National Disaster Response Fund (“NDRF”) to assist in the fight against COVID-19. And to credit, all the contributions or grants received in NDRF instead of PM CARES Fund. Additionally, all funds collected in PM CARES Fund to date should be directed to be transferred to NDRF.
National Plan under Section 11 of the Act has been framed in November 2019. But the said Plan is neither comprehensive nor covers the management of pandemic, i.e., COVID-19.
Moreover, all the contributions made by the individuals and institutions about COVID-19 are being credited into the PM CARES Fund and not in NDRF. This is a clear violation of Section 46 of the Act, 2005. Also, the NDRF is subject to CAG Audit and PM CARES Fund is not subject to CAG Audit.
The Act provides for a broad framework of the response to be provided in pursuance to a National Plan in case of any disaster. That National Plan is not a document that contains the microscopic details on the day to day management of the issues arising out of different disasters.
The court opined that there was no need for a fresh National Disaster Management Plan, for COVID-19. COVID-19 being a Biological and Public Health Emergency, it has been covered by National Plan, 2019. This is supplemented by various plans, guidelines, and measures. That said, there is no lack or dearth of plans and procedures to deal with COVID-19. All aspects of the epidemics, all measures to contain an epidemic, preparedness, response, mitigation have been dealt in the Plan, 2019.
Section 12 of the Act already provides for guidelines for relief measures in place, even before COVID-19. There is no need for further small reliefs in the wake of COVID-19.
The Court stated that the PM CARES Fund has been constituted as a “public charitable trust”. After the outbreak of pandemic COVID-19, the need of having a dedicated national fund with the aim of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19. The PM CARES Fund consists of voluntary contributions and does not get any budgetary support. And no government money is credited in the PM CARES Fund.
The Court stated that the nature of NDRF and PM CARES Fund is different. The guidelines issued under the Act for NDRF provides for its audit by the CAG of India. But for public charitable trust (PM CARES) there is no occasion for audit by the CAG.
The Court said that there is no occasion nor need for issuing any direction to transfer the funds in the PM CARES to the NDRF.
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