INTRODUCTION

On the 28th of March 2020, the center took one of its most controversial decisions with respect to its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, a.k.a. The PM Cares Fund was set up to receive donations towards the corona relief measures. Right since its inception, the fund has received widespread criticism with a plethora of individuals questioning the need for a new fund when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund exists for almost the similar objectives. The centre has come out with defence such as the fund’s exemption from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act[1], 2010, paving way for foreign funding to fight the pandemic. Having said this, we ought to keep in mind that the same centre has refused to take in foreign funding to tackle disasters, such as the Kerala Floods. Thus, serious concerns have been raised about the transparency of the same.

DEBATE OVER PM CARES FUND

The latest debacle surrounding it was sparked courtesy of the centre’s reply to a RTI application filed by one Mr. Harsha under the Right to Information Acct, 2005[2], seeking for a plethora of information, including the trust deeds and all the official notifications, circulars and government orders pertaining to the Fund.

If one goes back in time, this is the second RTI application moved by a citizen, requesting for data and information regarding the controversial charitable fund. Environmental activist Vikrant Toga had filed an RTI application along similar lines on the 21st of April, 2020 which was hastily disposed off by the PMO.

The reasons for disposal of the same were, the applicant had allegedly clubbed a series of requests under one application[3]. In doing so, the PMO had relied on

With the first application dismissed on procedural discrepancies, the second application(The first according to the chronology of filing, filed on 1st April) moved to the PMO yielded no reply, before the applicant appealed on the same. This application too met a similar fate as the requested information was not furnished by the PMO. However, the reason stated by the PMO for non-divulgence of the information is extremely concerning, this time around.

The PMO refused to entertain the RTI application on the grounds that the PM-CARES was not a public authority hence the sought information could not be made public in accordance with Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The reply also contained directives to refer pmcares.gov.in for relevant details. We are however welcomed by a rather unpleasant discovery that the site does not even publish the basic extrinsic details such as the total sum of funds received.

PUBLIC AUTHORITY

A public authority is defined under Section 2 clause (h) of the Right to Information Act. Furthermore, sub-clause (d) entails the fact that any authority constituted by a “notification issued, or order made by the appropriate Government” also is a public authority. This also includes anybody owned, controlled, or substantially financed by the Government as put out by the Act. In this peculiar scenario, we are talking about a National Fund set up by the Prime Minister himself, no being brought under the ambit of a public authority[4].

This is extremely concerning as stated above. The common man is not aware about anything whatsoever with respect to PM- Cares. While the central government reported that foreign funding in the fund was limited to donations and contributions from individuals and organisations that are based in foreign countries, reports suggest otherwise, as the Russian state backed defence establishment, Rosoboronexport, donated $2 million towards the PM-CARES[5]. Thus, ‘ambiguity’ is one word that can define the fund and its operation till this point of time. This has been seen in various instances like the aforementioned one.

At length, various obvious reasons exist, strongly validating the fact that PM- CARES ought to be (declared as) a public authority. These include:

  • The name of the Trust:

Under the name of the Prime Minister of  The Republic of India.

  • The composition of the Trust:

The Prime Minister as the chair and three senior cabinet ministers as the ex-officio members.

  • The Domain name:

The official site is hosted as .gov.in[6].

  • Usage of  The National Emblem of India:

The Ashoka Chakra along with the Trust’s name.

  • Funding from Government Departments:

Various government departments have sent official circulars/notices regarding one day salary cut from the employees. This included one day salary of the defence staff[7].

CONCLUSION

Due to the paucity of words, these are some of the many facts that are concurring the PMO’s hold that PM- CARES is not a public authority. Last but not the least, the huge volume of cash nearing 10,000 crores (est.)[8] under a Trust that is not a public authority does not hold good in any open, democratic state like ours. As an appeal over this is expected anytime soon, high hopes are pinned on the same to uncover the veil behind PM- CARES not listed as a public authority[9].

REFERENCES


[1] Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (No. 42 of 2010 dated 26th September 2010)

[2]Right To Information Act, 2005 (No. 22 of 2005 dated 15th June 2005)

[3]Dheeraj Mishra, PMO Refuses to Give Details on PM-CARES, Citing Controversial SC Statement, THE WIRE, (Apr. 30, 2020), <https://thewire.in/government/pmo-rti-pm-cares-supreme-court>, last accessed on 1 June 2020

[4] Right to Information Act, 2005, Article 2 (h) (i)

[5] Suhasini Haider & Dinakar Peri, Russian arms firm to donate $2 million to PM CARES Fund, THE HINDU, (Apr. 15, 2020), <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/russian-arms-firm-to-donate-2-mn-to-pm-cares-fund/article31350622.ece>, last accessed on 1 June, 2020

[6] Hosted at : https://www.pmcares.gov.in/en/

[7] Donation of one day salary to PM Cares Fund, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA. Available at : https://mod.gov.in/dod/sites/default/files/pmcare2420.pdf

[8]Moushumi Das Gupta, Rs 6,500 crore in 1st week, Rs 3,500 crore in next 2 months — PM CARES donations taper off, (May 28, 2020), <https://theprint.in/india/governance/rs-6500-crore-in-1st-week-rs-3500-crore-in-next-2-months-pm-cares-donations-taper-off/430276/>, last accessed on 1 June, 2020

[9]‘PM CARES not a public authority under RTI Act’: PMO rejects application seeking fund details; will appeal, says law student, FIRSTPOST, (May 31, 2020), <https://www.firstpost.com/india/pm-cares-not-a-public-authority-under-rti-act-pmo-rejects-application-seeking-fund-details-will-appeal-says-law-student-8430551.html>, last accessed on 1 June, 2020