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PM Cares Fund in the light of Right to Information: Do PM really Cares?

Novel coronavirus has affected most of the countries in the world. It led to infection of over 1.29 crore people and death of over 5.69 lakh people throughout the world. On January 30, 2020, India confirmed its first coronavirus case. At present, India ranks at 3 with over 8.50 lakh confirmed cases and 22 thousand deaths.

On March 28, 2020, Prime Minister announced the creation of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund), herein after referred to as the fund. The primary reason for the creation of the fund was to fights India’s war with Covid-19 and to make a healthier India in long term. He also urged the people of India in the said fund and a press release was also issued by Prime Minister’s office.

Several applications under RTI Act, 2005 (herein after referred to as the ‘Act’) were filed for seeking information relating to PM Cares fund and they were disposed. First appeal filed by few of the applicants was disposed. In this piece we will discuss how the fund qualifies as public authority and how the activities of government impose a great doubt on transparency of said fund.

PM Cares Fund

A public charitable trust named PM Cares Fund was established with Prime Minister as the ex- officio chairman and Minister of Defense, Home affairs and Finance as ex-officio trustees. Chairman was given the power to nominated three trustees.

The object of providing support or assistance related to public health emergencies, up gradation or creation of infrastructure related to healthcare, providing grants for research, providing financial assistance and to take any other steps as considered necessary by trustees of the fund. Further, it qualified benefits under 80G of Income Tax Act, 1961 i.e, 100% income tax exemption and it also was also considered as CSR activity under Companies Act, 2013.

Application under RTI and Response

Several persons including the present author had filed RTI application under the Act for seeking the information pertaining to amount of contributions received, details regarding the disbursement of received amount, details of highest contributors etc.

In response to the RTI applications, it was replied that fund does not comes under the ambit of ‘public authority’ defined under 2(h) of the Act. It further provided that relevant information relating to fund was available on ‘pmcares.gov.in’ but the sufficient information is not available. Being aggrieved by the reply, many persons including the author had preferred first appeal under the Act which was rejected on same ground. Few PIL’s have been filed in the court for the said issue.

Question of Public Authority

The fund qualifies conditions necessary for being considered as a public authority.
  • The government headed by Prime Minister, ex-officio chairman of the fund has a deep and substantial control over the fund.
  • The government has a good legal title over the fund since PM, Minister of home affairs, defence and finance it looks into all the affairs of the fund.
  • The PM has also called for contributions from public wherein Indian Railways donated Rs. 15 crore and air force, navy and army, defence PSUs and employees of the defence ministry have collectively donated Rs. 500 crore. Also, website of fund uses official “.gov.in” domain and uses the State Emblem of India.

Steps of Government in Question

The present government has blocked parliament panel review of the said fund. Also, audit of the said fund is to be done by a Delhi based firm. The head of the independent auditing company is said to have close acquaintances with Prime Minister and other leaders of BJP. He serves as advisor to various government entities. Transparency in the auditing process till remains an unanswered question.

Also, donations to PM Cares fund qualified as CSR activity but donations to CM Cares Fund did not qualify as CSR activity. It created dissatisfaction among few states and few left parties vehemently opposed this move of the governement.

Conclusion
Donations were made in said PM Cares Fund on account of association of government of India and continuous promotion of the said fund by various ministers. If complete details relating to said fund is not provided, it can’t be considered anything more than a step of converting disaster into opportunity by a political party.

In a democratic country like India, transparency forms the crux. Right to Information is fundamental right under 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Availability of information in public domain makes government more accountable to public and it also increases the participation of public in politics.

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