The announcement was made on 28 March 2020, following lockdowns around the country, by our Hon’ble Prime Minister about creation of a Fund to “fight the war with the virus”. This fund was named as Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations i.e. PM-CARES. Having both rhetoric and irony behind the name, announcements were further made and citizens were requested/urged to donate to this fund to support “India win the war against this virus”. The creation and announcement of the fund arose completely out of thin air, the Prime minister deemed fit that it needed no further explanation than just a casual proclamation of a creation of a new fund. The story behind PM- Cares fund is both muddled and convoluted, having no major backbone for its existence but for the sole stated purpose of assisting, in these stressful times, areas of research and for the upliftment of the medical infrastructure of the country and to provide financial assistance to the affected and injured people. The “Public Charitable Trust ” as laid out on the PMO’s office official website, poses many questions all of which deserves discussion to understand the need and the basis of creation of such a fund
PMNRF OR PM-CARES?
The main issue that invokes discussion is the point that there already exists a fund in place set up in 1948 by Pt. Jawarharlal Nehru i.e. the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) It deals with exigencies arising out of national unrest either due to natural disasters or major accidents etc. . Why was the creation of PM-CARES required? The objectives laid out on the PMO official website are both vague and arbitrary stating that the fund will maintain and provide financial assistance to both medical research and up-gradation of medical infrastructure, to aid financially the areas affected by the virus and any other objective concerning the aforementioned. This in itself seems too broad and inexhaustive. Furthermore, the fund identifies itself as a “public charitable trust”. This is highly ironical for two major reasons, both of which are as follows:
- For a Public trust, the PM-CARES is exempted from the purview of the RTI Act, thus implying that it is not a public body and doesn’t come under the ambit of the RTI
- All Central government employees had to mandatorily donate to this fund after a notification released by the Department of Revenue, under The Ministry of Finance, stated that one day’s pay had to be given to the PM-CARES fund, and those who reject donations had to justify their action and write their employee’s code number and intimate it to the disbursing officer by 20/04/2020. It becomes outright blatant that the central government is demanding funds from their employees that too to a fund which has not been deemed as a public body.
The second interesting point to note is that there is a high contrast as well as similarities which cannot be left unsaid between PMNRF and PM-CARES fund, which shows the redundancy of the latter. As per the data available, it is seen that almost a staggering amount of Rs.3,800 Crores remains untouched in the PMNRF fund, which only accepts voluntary contributions. This has not been transferred to the PM-CARES fund. Both the funds are exempted from the ambit of Foreign Contribution(Regulation) Act (FCRA), thus implying that both can take foreign donations but the interesting part shows that while PMNRF is transparent about its foreign funding, PM-CARES is tight-lipped about the quantum of foreign funding it has received so far thus further showing the opaqueness behind the fund. The Committee of the funds is another point which highlights the difference between the two funds. While PMNRF had in its committee, The Prime Minister, The President of The Indian National Congress party, The Deputy Prime Minister and further two trustee representatives whereas PM-CARES funds consists of purely four members, The Prime Minister, The Minister of Defence, The Minister of Home Affairs and The Finance minister. All of them belong to the same political party and therefore removes the systemic criteria of internal checks and balances and has further created a citation in which the fund is to be administered by one political power without control. The striking similarity between the two is one that throws further doubt upon the funds being that both of the funds are audited by the same independent auditor, namely SARC & Associatesbeing a Delhi based firm. The transparency has been thrown under the bus by not asking the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to audit the fund basing its rationale on the ground that the fund comprises of individual donations and organisations and is a charitable trust, it has been kept outside the control of the CAG.
PM-CARES NOT A PUBLIC BODY?
The point that further raises discussion is why hasn’t the PM-CARES fund been considered a public body and has been kept outside the purview of the RTI. An RTI filed by a student from Bangalore on April 1 got a response from the PMO That the PM-CARES Fund does not come under the ambit of a public authority as under section 2(h) of The Right To Information act, 2005. Furthermore, it concluded its response by stating that all relevant information could be found on the official website. This creates a chain of questions that remains to be answered. One Of the most important questions that arises is Why hasn’t the “public charitable trust” considered public? In 2012, The PMO rightly considered the PMNRF to be a public body and thus under the applicability of the RTI act. In the case of Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund V Aseem TakyarIt was held by Justice Ravinder Bhatt that PMNRF is a public authority as it is centrally controlled which provided enough basis for it to be brought under the domain of a public authority. Furthermore, since the PM has no personal stake and interest, it was a public body. The next two which implies the fund to be of a public nature are:
- Committee of The PM-CARES fund: What further highlights the issue of the PM-CARES Fund to be public body is the fact that the committee comprises of The Prime minister, Minister of Home Affairs, Finance Minister and Minister of Defence, all of whom acting under the role of a constitutional functionary gives substantial proof that the body should be considered as a public authority.
- Use of the State Emblem: The official website of the fund under the PMO official site uses the state emblem which is another factor that is indicative of the public nature of the trust as the use of state emblem is strictly prohibited unless it is authorized by the government under the State Emblem Act of 1956
NO PROCESS OF LAW FOLLOWED
Along with the aforementioned points, it is worth mentioning that proclamation of the PM-CARES fund is the only thing that backs up its existence apart from the official website which states that donations are exempted under The Income Tax Act,1961, under section 80 (G), and that donations from organisations will be considered as Corporate Social Responsibility Expenditure as under The Companies Act, 2013. What is pertinent to mention that all these steps that are favourable to donors are done without any statutory notification released by the government on any platform and without any legal basis on any authority or provision of law. A mere notification on the PMO website has done the deed leaving procedures of the law and policy- making in the dust.
Another important question that needs to be answered is that the country implemented the National Disaster Management Act, 2005(NDMA),after releasing a notification by the authority which held the outbreak to be a disaster as under the act. Consequently, Section 46 of the NDMA provides for the creation of a “National Disaster Response Fund” which has been incorporated in the act to fight the disaster in a manner that is uniform and procedural based. In Spite of this, a Private Fund has been started by The PMO under the Mask of a Public Trust but remains lip-locked about the sources of its funds.
What finally is the PM-CARES fund? Constituted as a “public trust” while at the same time behaving and acting as a private fund, From not disclosing the source of its funding, to being exempted from the purview of the RTI act, the fund itself has a shadow of doubt being thrown by the citizens of India. Furthermore, the constitution of the committee of the trust being all the members of the same party, while at the same time, this fund being exercised at the discretion of the PM all indicates to how transparency and responsibility that should be taken up by the PMO can further alleviate the doubts and question surrounding the origin and purpose of the fund
About the author
Vibhu Krishnatm Choubey is a 3rd-year law student at NALSAR, Hyderabad. His interest spans from reading philosophy to playing Counter-Strike: Global offensive, from listening to old school rap songs to some R&B and Jazz. He is a powerlifter and a pursuing strength enthusiast and is very recently developed his love for legal writing. Currently, he finds myself engaged with criminology as an extremely interesting facet of law, in which he has a never-ending passion for connecting the psychology behind crime with the act of crime itself. Apart from the boring stuff, he is an anime head and a food enthusiast that sums up as an extremely good combination for being a binge eater and an otaku.