As we all know the whole world is suffering from this deadly virus COVID19. India reported its very first COVID positive case on 30th January 2020. As the number of COVID positive was increasing rapidly all across the Indian Territory. Prime Minister Narendra Modi started imposing lockdowns to tackle the outbreak of the virus.
After declaring complete lockdown in India, the country started facing lots of problems related to the financial crisis, migrant labours, etc. And to tackle all these problems on 28th March 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new fund “Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES)”. The main motive of the fund is to give relief to the COVID19 affected peoples.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the ex-officio Chairman of the fund. Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are the trustees of the fund. The PMO also stated that three eminent persons from the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy will be the other members of the trust.
The fund accepts voluntarily contribution from either any individual or organisation. The minimum amount for donation was set as INR 10. Also if an individual donates to PM CARES fund he/she will be qualified for 80G benefits for 100% exemption from Income Tax Act, 1961. And if any organisation or company donates they will be qualified to be counted as Corporate Social Responsibility expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013.
After the declaration of PM CARES, it faced various controversies from the opposition parties, as the Indian National Congress’s president Smt. Sonia Gandhi advised that “all the funds of PM CARES should be transferred to PMNRF.” Also, the CPIM said, “PM CARES is an unnecessary fund, as we already have PMNRF.” Most of the opposition parties and leaders want the funds of PM CARES to be transferred to PMNRF.
So what is PMNRF?
Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948. This fund was made to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed in:
- Natural Calamities
- Victims of major accidents and riots
- Support medical expenses for acid victims
- And others.
The PMNRF is managed by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, President of Indian National Congress, the deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, a representative of Tata Trust and a representative of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce Industry (FICCI).
As most of the opposition leaders and parties are in favour of transferring all the funds to PMNRF from PM CARES, as they think PMNRF is much more transparent than PM CARES.
Is PMNRF really transparent?
The answer would be almost NO. As the committee consists of the President of INC also, so in the current government it would be transparent but what when the government is also of INC. Also, the PMNRF is audited by a third party, not by Comptroller Auditor General (CAG). And also the fund does not come under RTI.
As in 2012, Aseem Takyar filed a right to information application with the Prime Minister’s Office seeking details about the beneficiaries and donors to the PMNRF from 2009 till 2011. The fund denied him to give details arguing that this information is not in the public interest and could cause the “unwarranted invasion” of the privacy of the donors and beneficiaries. Further, the case was filled in Delhi High Court and in 2018, a two-judge bench gave a split verdict. And the judges asked the then Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court to refer the issue to a third judge. The matter is now listed for hearing on 15th July 2020.
Now the question is when we have National Disaster Relief Fund, CM Relief Fund and PMNRF, then what is the requirement of PM CARES?
According to PMO, the PM CARES is much more transparent than the PMNRF. As in PMNRF the sole responsibility and discretion are of the Prime Minister only, whereas PM CARES include Prime Minister along with three other government ministers along with three other eminent persons from a different field, due to which all the powers will not be centred to PM only.
The PMO also claims that besides being used to provide relief during any natural public health emergency or natural calamity, funds from PM CARES can also be utilised to support research, for example, funds can be used for the research related to COVID19.
Also unlike PMNRF, PM CARES can be used for ramping up healthcare or pharmaceutical infrastructure in the country.
Now, apart from all these comparisons between PM CARES and other funds, do PM CARES come under RTI?
So what is RTI?
RTI is an act of the parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizen’s right to information.
Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “Public Authority” which is required to reply expeditiously or within 30 days. An activist named Sri Harsha Kandukuri filed an RTI application on 1st April 2020 asking PMO “to provide the fund’s trust deed and all government orders, notifications and circulars relating to its creation and operation.” He didn’t receive any reply for his RTI, but after re-filling the RTI finally he received a response from the PMO on 29th May 2020.
In the response of the RTI, the PMO replied that “PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect to PM CARES Fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in”.
As per Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 “Public Authority means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted,-
- by or under the Constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by State Legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.
The definition of “Public Authority’ also includes- Bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government and non-government organisations substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
Now the question arises How PM CARES is not a “Public Authority?”
As by denying PM CARES fund from the status of Public Authority, it is to be inferred that it is not controlled by the Government. But we know that Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES and Home Minister, Finance Minister and Defence Minister are ex-officio trustees of the fund.
Also, the RTI activist said that “for a trust which is created and run by four cabinet ministers in their ex-officio capacities, denying the status of ‘Public Authority’ is a big blow to transparency and not to mention our democratic values”
Even also the PM CARES does not fall under CAG. As the CAG office stated that, “Since the fund is based on donations of individuals and organisations, we have no rights to audit the charitable organisation.” However, according to PMO the audit of the PM CARES will be done by the independent auditors. But those independent auditors will be appointed by the trustees.
However, according to media sources the PM CARES collected about INR 6,500 crores in a week which is 3 times the collection of PMNRF two years collection. It means that PM CARES have lots of money in it but still, Indian doctors are facing problems related to PPE Kits, other medical types of equipment, etc. However, from the last 2-3 weeks, the situation is better now.
According to me, the PM CARES should be brought under RTI and CAG, to make it more transparent. And even there should be a live tracking system through which all can know how much amount we have in PM CARES Fund and how many are being invested in treatment, research, and other works.