The PM CARES fund has been in the garb of controversy since it came into being on March 28. Several RTIs have been filed, the matter has gone to the Supreme Court, however, despite that the Central Government is unwilling to make its contents public. We all know that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief In Emergency Situations Fund or PM CARES Fund was set up to provide aid in fighting the Coronavirus crisis and those who have been severely affected by it. Numerous large companies, celebrities paid hundreds of crores to the fund and citizens such as you and me too donated what we could.
And that gives us the right to know how the money is being utilised or the mere fact that how much money has been collected in the fund.
Even after RTIs being filed this information was not given out stating that the PM Cares Fund is not ‘Public Authority’. So the question of whether it is a public authority or not has been haunting the people of the country from the beginning. In five detailed explanations here, we try to explain why PM Cares Fund should be public knowledge.
The PM Cares Fund’s official website which is publicly available should tell us how much money is being utilised where. But what we can find out is that Rs 3100 crore has been allocated for namely three activities including Rs 2,000 crores “for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made-in India’ ventilators to Government Hospitals run by the Centre, States and Union Territories”, Rs 1,000 crores “for the care of migrant labourers” and lastly Rs 100 crores “for vaccine development”. But where is the money actually going? It’s unspecified and confusing, to say the least. While we know several vaccines are being developed in India, none of the manufacturers have publicly said that they received funds from the government or there is no solid proof of the PM Cares Fund being used in this direction. Similarly, with the migrant workers’ crisis, there have been on ground reports of those people not receiving the basic food and drinking water at places. The Shramik trains meant to bring them back to their hometowns also charged exorbitant ticket prices, the move which even the Opposition criticised and offered to pay.
The BJP used Government Machinery to promote the PM Cares Fund. The question we all should ask is can government machinery be used to promote a fund that is said to be not established by central or state governments and is merely a charitable trust? PM Modi on March 30, during a video conference, asked heads of Indian Missions across the globe to promote and publicise the fund in order to garner foreign donations to fight the COVID-19 crisis back in India. In a reply to his RTI, Transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd) found out from the Indian High Commission in Singapore that the Singapore government refused to allow any official channel to promote the PM CARES Fund as it was declared as a charitable trust by the Indian government. Whereas, the Indian Embassy in Moscow told Batra in an RTI reply that the fund was given publicity on the Embassy’s website and social media pages. But if you think hard you will realise that no other charitable trust in India will be given such promotion or publicity on any of the countries’ Indian Embassy websites. That would be completely out of the question. Then this argument too leaves us to believe that the fund should be made public knowledge.
In a matter of days after the launch of the PM CARES Fund, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued a notification saying “any contribution made by a Company to the PM CARES Fund shall qualify as Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR.” Following this, it is public knowledge that several public sector units donated massive amounts of money to the fund. For instance, Power Finance Corporation, donated Rs 200 crore, numerous Public Sector Banks and Enterprises under the Finance Ministry together donated more than Rs 200 crores qualified under CSR funds to PM CARES. The Ministry of Defence also contributed one day salary of all its employees across the board, which would roughly amount up to Rs 500 crores. Steel PSUs also contributed 500 crores and all of this is public money. We all are aware that PSUs come under RTI and are also liable to share information under the RTI act which implies that the PM CARES can as well. If not entirely but at least the PSUs’ donations to the fund can be made public knowledge. Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told The Quint, “Whether PM CARES comes under RTI or not, any contribution to PM CARES by PSUs does come under the RTI.”
This too clearly tells us why the fund needs to be a public authority.
Based on the information available publicly on the PM CARES Fund website, Transparency activist Anjali Bharadwaj filed an RTI at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, asking a few basic questions:
-Kindly provide the guidelines issued regarding the utilisation of money from PM CARES fund for the care of migrant labourers.
-Kindly provide the amount of PM CARES funds allocated to each State and Union Territory.
-Kindly provide copies of related file notings or correspondence by the Ministry.
In response to the RTI, the Prime Minister’s Office had refused to provide the information, stating: “PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005”. Which simply means that PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority because it was not established, framed, maintained, checked or substantially financed by funds provided by neither the Central or State Governments.
But all these questions need to be answered as it is all public money and the citizens have the right to know whether the hard-earned money that they donated was utilised in the right sectors or not.
Tax Exemption Relief to PM CARES donations had also been announced. So, donations to the PM CARES Fund shall be eligible for 100 per cent deduction under section 80G of the Income Tax Act. On March 31, just two days after PM CARES Fund was announced, a government Ordinance also altered and amended provisions of the Income Tax Act. As a result of the alteration, a donation made to the PM CARES Fund would be eligible for 100 per cent tax deduction, it was stated. This too can be classified under clear usage of government machinery to promote the PM CARES Fund, which they like to call a charitable trust.
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