PM Office Rejects RTI Plea on PM Modi’s Secret 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

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has denied a Right to Information (RTI) request that sought information on PM-CARES Fund launched by PM Narendra Modi to deal with coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its reply, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper published on August 17, the PMO refused to entertain the RTI request on the grounds that providing it would “disproportionately divert the resources of the office.”

However, according to the report, a High Court judgment and multiple orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) have previously held that, under the RTI Act, this rationale can only be used to change the format of information provided, not deny it altogether.

“This is a ‘misuse’ of the (RTI) Act, which should attract penalties under the law,” The Hindu report quoted the country’s first Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

According to the report, RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.) had filed the RTI request asking for the total number of RTI applications and appeals received and disposed of in the PMO each month since April 2020, as well as the number of such applications and appeals related to PM-CARES Fund and the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

On the eve of Independence Day (August 15), the PMO responded, providing the overall data, but denying information specific to the two PM funds.

“The information sought by you is not maintained in this office in compiled form. Its collection and compilation would disproportionately divert the resources of this office from the efficient discharge of its normal functions, thereby attracting the provisions under Section 7(9) of the Act,” said the PMO’s Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO).

It is Section 8 (1) which lists the various valid reasons for exemptions under the Act, which would allow denial of information. Section 7(9), on the other hand, only says, “An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.”

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.

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Rakesh Raman