Home BlogArticles PM CARES AND THE PARADOX CONTRIBUTION

PM CARES AND THE PARADOX CONTRIBUTION

by Neelakshi Rai
PM Cares Fund and the paradox contribution By Neelakshi Ray at Kanooniyat

INTRODUCTION

It was 28th March 2020 when our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Damodar Das Modi made an announcement on his twitter account about the launch of PM CARES Fund. PM CARES Fund stands for Prime Minister’s Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund. It accepts voluntary donations from individuals & organizations without any budgetary support. It can be counted against a company’s social responsibility obligation and donations to it are exempted from tax. Although, there have been instances where center has refused to accept donations from foreign nations and individuals, but PM CARES Fund is also exempted from the Foreign Contribution and Regulation Act, 2010. When the opposition contended that a duplicate fund with the same objective exists, the central government defended themselves either by keeping silent or giving absurd excuses. Beside this, a PIL was filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Center for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). Also, an RTI was filed by Harsha Kandukri on April 1st and later on by activist Vikrant Togad. Each time questions were raised by someone, they were rejected with stating that PM CARES Fund was not a public authority and they are not obliged to give information regarding it.

FUNDS WITH SIMILAR OBJECTIVE

In 1948, Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was created. Originally founded to let the public assist refugees during partition, it is now used to provide immediate relief to families who get injured or killed during natural calamities. It also helps the victims of major riots & accidents and helps them medically. PMNRF is basically managed by the Prime Minister Office and when it was created, it had on its managing committee: The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Congress President, a representative of Tata Trustees and an industry representative. According to media reports from end of March, the PMNRF Fund had unspent balance of Rs. 3800 crore. Was the government saving this money for a crisis even bigger than Covid-19? [1]

WHERE ARE THE CONTRIBUTIONS TO GOING?

After just half an hour of PM CARES Fund going live, the donations began. An IAS Association and Film Star Akshay Kumar were the first to take the initiative and make donations amounting to Rs. 21 lakh and Rs. 25 Crore respectively. According to the news report, there was donation of Rs. 6500 crore in the first week itself. The figures didn’t stop here and within a month there were donations amounting to Rs.10000 crore.  A good chunk of it came from employees of the Defense Ministry, Army, Navy, Air Force and Defense Public Sector Units: around Rs. 500 Crore. Also, the Tata and Reliance Industries donated Rs. 500 crore each to this fund. Companies like Reliance and Tata came forward to donate but many forget those employees who salaries might have been cut short to make way for donations in the name of the Prime Minister. Moreover, railways, which made a donation of Rs. 151 crore is now in news for their good deed as we neglect the part where they could not even provide free transport to destitute migrant workers.

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ALLEGATIONS MADE AGAINST PM CARES FUND AND ITS OUTCOMES

Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma was among the first to file a PIL[2] against the PM CARES Fund. The PIL said “That cause of action arose to the petitioner on March 28th, upon having press release for the formation of impugned PM CARES Fund and appeal by the Prime Minister of India to donate funds in that trust to fight Covid-19 and aid healthcare in future without any ordinance and gazette notification by government of India.”, also “Impugned trust has not either been created by Parliament/ State legislature within Article 267[3]. It is neither passed by Parliament nor approved by President of India. There is no ordinance/gazette notification in this read.” [4] Rejecting the Plea CJI S.A. Bobde described PIL as ‘misconceived’. Two other judges, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and M.M Shantanagoudar who were part of the bench did not agree with the lawyer who said that this article was created without following Article 266[5] and 267 of Indian Constitution. The PIL was dismissed in a hearing which was made through video conferencing.

Next in the series is Harsha Kandukri who is a law student of Ajim Premji University, Bangalore. He filed a RTI asking the government to disclose details on creation and operation of PM CARES Fund. At first, Mr. Kandukri didn’t receive any response within 30 days; he received a response after an appeal. In response, the Prime Minister Office refused to give any such information saying that PM Cares does not comes under the ambit of Section 2(h) of Right to information Act, 2005 which says that “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted—

(a) by or under the Constitution;

(b) by any other law made by Parliament;

(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;

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(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—

      i)  body owned, controlled or substantially financed;

      ii) Non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds   provided by the appropriate Government.

Besides this, a resident of Greater Noida and environmental activist Vikrant Togad filed RTI against PM CARES Fund on 21st April. He got response in less than a week on 27th April. Prime Minister office said that the application made by the applicant contains multiple questions and on various topics, as a result of which they cannot provide information. Also, there have been many questions raised against the existence of PM CARES Fund by opposition, public and lawyers but no steps has been taken yet to regularize this fund by government.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ARGUMENTS MADE BY GOVERNMENT

By responding, Vikrant Togad on 27th April, the PMO wrote, “It is not open to the applicant under the RTI Act to bundle a series of requests into one application unless are treated separately and paid for accordingly”.[6] It seems like the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) has misinterpreted one of the judgment of Supreme Court in 2009. By giving such statement PMO has denied that judgment of case ‘Shri Rajendra Singh v. Central Bureau of Investigation’[7] where Supreme Court ordered the Commission to give information to the applicant who had asked information on a total of 69 points that too without demanding additional fees. Several judgments were delivered in recent years based on this verdict like ‘Suryakant B. Tengali v. State Bank of India[8] and ‘Umapati v. State Bank of India’[9]. The former Chief Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargawa said that “What constitute ‘a single subject matter’ has neither been defined in the RTI Act, the rules and regulations framed there under and not even by the Chief Information Commissioner in the said decisions. No parameters have been laid down by the CIC through which an applicant or the PIO can determine whether the information sought pertains to one subject matter”.[10] There have been cases besides PM CARES Fund where applicant request has been refused on the ground that he urges for information more than one topic.

Coming on to the reply which is made by PMO as the response of various filed RTI for knowing the composition and of this trust, I should tell you that the Central Government said “All funds other than the funds stipulated under Section 46[11] of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 are separate, different, distinct, created separately under separate provision”[12], which implies that PM CARES Fund is not a public authority and doesn’t fall under RTI Act. These statements by central government and PMO cannot change the fact that the receipt of the deposit in the private trust is raised on the public basis and the trust launch was announced by Shri Narendra Damodar Das Modi who holds a public office. The Prime Minister himself is the ex-officio chairman of the trust and including three senior cabinets ministers as ex-officio trustees. Additionally, the nomenclature of the fund i.e, PM CARES gives the impression of being connected to the Prime Minister, and by extension, the government.

EVEN IF IT IS ‘PRIVATE’ TRUST, THE PUBLIC HAS RIGHT TO KNOW ABOUT IT

The sweeping ‘privacy’ protection extended to such trust funds of this sort is legally suspect as it enables the government to run an account immune from the constitutional rigors of parliamentary regulation under Article 283[13], an exemption from audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General under Article 151[14], and our legal right to know[15]

CONCLUSION

After analyzing the PM CARES Fund, it can be said that it is no manner better than the PMNRF. It lacks constitutional explanation and has still not answered the multiple questions and pressing concerns raised by people. Some have even tried to benefit from the situation by creating payment addresses with similar sounding names where innocent donators were duped into giving money.

It is high time for the government to formulate comprehensive rules & regulations and actually start caring for people instead of just throwing a publicity charade.


[1] www.hindu.com//national/news/coronavirus-Funds-with-similar-objective//

[2] Manohar Lal Sharma v. Narendra Damodar Das Modi & Ors. (2020)

[3] Article 267- Contingency Fund, Constitution Of India, 1950

[4] www.thehindu.in//news/national/SC-rejects-plea-against-PM-CARES-Fund//article31331814.ece

[5] Article 266- Consolidated Funds and Public accounts of India and of the State, Indian Constitution, 1950

[6] www.thewire.in/government/pmo-rti-pm-cares-supreme-court

[7] CIC/WB/C/2007/00967 dated 17.12.2007 Right to information Act, 2005- Section 18

[8] 22 October, 2010

[9] 15 December, 2010

[10] www.thewire.in/government/pmo-rti-pm-cares-supreme-court

[11] Section 46- National Disaster Respond Fund, Disaster Management Act, 2005

[12] www.livelaw.in/top-stories/pm-cares-fund-ndrf-statuary-fund/

[13] Article 283- Custody, etc, of Consolidated Funds, Contingency Funds and moneys credited to the public accounts, Indian Constitution, 1950

[14] Article 151- Audit Reports, Constitution of India, 1950

[15] https://thewire.in/law/the-legal-charter-of-pm-cares-is-unsound-the-government-must-frame-rules-at-once

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