Court Asks Modi Govt to Reveal the Details of PM CARES Fund

Narendra Modi speaking about COVID-19 through video conference in New Delhi on March 24, 2020. Photo: PIB
Narendra Modi speaking about COVID-19 through video conference in New Delhi on March 24, 2020. Photo: PIB

While the Modi government has earmarked public funds worth billions of dollars to combat coronavirus, it is not spending money even to provide the basic healthcare facilities in the hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.

By Rakesh Raman

The controversy around a secret fund that PM Narendra Modi had floated to combat coronavirus is increasing. The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was created on 28 March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic in India. But there is hardly any transparency in the management of this fund.

Now in response to a petition, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has issued notices to all trustees of PM CARES Fund and the Union government asking them to submit details of the amount collected and utilization of the funds. The court has given 2 weeks’ time to the Modi government to file its reply – around the week starting June 15.

According to Hindustan Times, the court was hearing a petition filed by a Nagpur-based lawyer, Arvind Waghmare, who sought the government to periodically declare the amount collected under the ‘PM CARES Fund’ on the government’s website to inform the common public.

The petition also demands the fund’s audit through the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) instead of an independent auditor to be nominated by a board of trustees, besides including at least two members from the Opposition parties in the trust.

Strangely, however, the Union government counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, opposed the move and sought dismissal of the petition. The very fact that the Modi government does not want to reveal the details of the public fund manifests its admission of guilt and the possibility of misappropriation.

Additionally, according to a report in the Livemint, a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in Delhi High Court by advocate Surender Singh Hooda has also sought information about the PM CARES Fund.

The petitioner argues that since it is a public authority within the ambit of Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the court should issue directions to the government to publicly display the details of the money received and the purposes for which it has been utilized. The plea is expected to be heard on 10 June.

Earlier, the Supreme Court of India – which apparently works under the directions of the government – had dismissed a PIL for questioning the legality of the constitution of PM CARES Fund for Covid-19.

The top court observed that the petition was misconceived. But it is largely believed that it was a ploy of the government to get a weak petition filed so that it could use the Supreme Court’s order in other courts to block petitions that would demand transparency in the fund.

While the Modi government is not using the taxpayers’ money collected through different funds for improving the healthcare infrastructure to combat the disease, research shows India already has at least one million coronavirus cases.

People who want to hold the Modi government accountable argue that there was no need to create a separate PM CARES Fund when the existing Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund has a balance of 38 billion rupees (or $498.6 million) which can be spent to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

While the Modi government has earmarked public funds worth billions of dollars to combat coronavirus, it is not spending money even to provide the basic healthcare facilities in the hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.

According to Reuters, shortages of protective health gear in India are forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the coronavirus, exposing the weak state of the public health system ahead of an anticipated surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Reuters report adds that several junior doctors have refused to treat patients without adequate safety equipment. They have also established an informal Covid-19 fund, to which each doctor contributed 1,000 rupees ($13.27) to buy masks and other face coverings.

Instead of spending the collected public money to provide the test and treatment facilities in hospitals, Modi – who is an uneducated religious demagogue – is asking people to hit their kitchen utensils to encourage the doctors who should keep working in high-risk hospitals to handle the coronavirus patients.

As the Modi government has completely ignored the health and safety concerns of Indians during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, PM Modi is issuing superstitious diktats for people to face the virus menace. For example, after asking people to bang their utensils, Modi asked all Indians to light candles, lamps, and torches at 9 pm on Sunday (April 5) to fight coronavirus.

In other words, the Modi government is not spending the allocated money to tackle coronavirus. Then where is the money going? In the absence of transparency, it appears that the Indian bureaucrats – who are highly corrupt – will siphon off the coronavirus funds.

And a bigger portion of the money will be stolen by the government politicians who use such money frequently these days to purchase legislators in horsetrading deals to topple the elected state governments in India and form their own governments unscrupulously.

The Modi government’s record shows that it will not make the coronavirus funds data public. However, if the government is honest, it should create a web-based tracking facility that should show the collection and movement of funds in real time.

As Modi himself is not quite educated, he must take help from experts to make technology-based systems for supply chain management to provide succor to the poor, inventory management for distributing protective gear in the hospitals, and auditing processes to ensure transparency in the accounting systems for managing coronavirus funds.

But unfortunately Modi – who does not have any understanding of these moderns subjects and prefers to work in an authoritarian manner – is giving very generic, meaningless advice such as lighting the candles and hitting the utensils to people which even a wild boor can give.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society. He also creates and publishes a number of digital publications and research reports on different subjects. These publications include the “Covid Health Bulletin” that covers global coronavirus news and views.

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