PM Modi’s Office Continues to Conceal Details of Covid Fund

Prime Minister (PM) of India Narendra Modi. Photo: PIB
Prime Minister (PM) of India Narendra Modi. Photo: PIB

With more than 10 million reported cases, India has become the epicenter of coronavirus. But it is not yet known how the PM-CARES Fund is being used to deal with the Covid calamity.

By Rakesh Raman

The mystery surrounding the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) set up to collect Covid donations in India has deepened, as the government has once again refused to divulge the account details without giving any valid reason for refusal.

In its RTI reply of December 24, the government says PM-CARES is a body established by the government of India, but it does not come under the Right to Information (RTI) law as it receives private funds.

However, according to an NDTV news report of December 25, a Trust Deed under which the Fund was established said it was not owned or controlled by the government, increasing the confusion over the Fund.

And if it is a private fund, then it is not supposed to use the words “PM or Prime Minister” in its name because it will amount to fraud aimed to trick the public with the aim to swindle public money.

While a government entity which collects crores of rupees from the public is supposed to be covered by the RTI law, the government has repeatedly refused to entertain RTI applications.

The PM-CARES Trust has been registered with the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi. According to PM-CARES website, Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs, and Minister of Finance, Government of India are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund. But the Trust Deed on the Fund’s website did not define it as a government trust.

According to the official accounts statement for 2019-20 (from 27th to 31st March, 2020), an amount of Rs. 3076.62 crore has been collected under PM CARES Fund. The latest figures have not been revealed. (1 United States Dollar US$ = Rs. 74 approximately)

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

In addition to over Rs 2,400 crore in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds, over 100 PSUs from different sectors have contributed nearly Rs. 155 crore from staff salaries to the PM-CARES Fund. A December 7 report of The Indian Express says that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which manages the fund, had declined to furnish details of the contributions received.

“PM CARES Fund is not a public authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. However, relevant information in respect of PM-CARES Fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in,” the PMO said in an RTI response, according to The Indian Express.

As serious doubts are being raised about the transparency in the PM-CARES Fund launched by PM Narendra Modi to deal with coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the government has been trying to silence the probing voices.

In August, a minister in the Modi government Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed that there is total transparency in the Fund and it has been unnecessarily targeted in the courts.

His statement came on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling on August 18 that rejected a plea seeking directions to transfer all contributions made to the PM-CARES Fund to the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF).

While the PM-CARES Fund was created by PM Modi in a secretive way to collect money to deal with coronavirus, the Modi government refuses to reveal the details of money collected and spent through this account.

ROLE OF THE SUPREME COURT

According to reports, the Supreme Court rejected a plea seeking directions to transfer all contributions made to the PM-CARES Fund to the NDRF, a public account which is auditable and publicly available.

The petition, filed by NGO ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL)’ through advocate Prashant Bhushan, had sought a direction to the Centre to transfer all contributions made to the PM-CARES Fund, set up for Covid-19 relief, to the NDRF.

It is being increasingly observed that the Supreme Court of India does not dare to challenge the decisions of the Modi government. Many people believe that after the court’s refusal to probe the corruption in Modi’s Rafale deal, this case of PM-CARES Fund has also been brushed under the carpet.

However, minister Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed that the court judgment made it clear that the law had been followed in running the PM-CARES Fund, which, he said, has contributed Rs. 3,100 crore to the fight against coronavirus. “The fund is transparent and corruption-free,” the minister asserted.

But it is difficult to digest his assertion. While the minister is making loose statements about the transparency of the fund, the PMO refuses to release its details formally.

The PMO has denied a Right to Information (RTI) request that sought information on PM-CARES Fund. 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.

Obviously, there is hardly any transparency in the management of the PM-CARES Fund that was created on 27 March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic in India.

Moreover, with more than 10 million reported cases, India has become the epicenter of coronavirus and is posing a serious threat to the entire world as the virus will travel from here to other countries. But it is not yet known how the PM-CARES Fund is being used to deal with the Covid calamity.

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.

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