The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund, while the ministers of defence, home and finance are its ex-officio trustees.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a plea that sought its direction to the Centre to transfer contributions made to the PM CARES Fund for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
Hearing a petition filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising justices RS Reddy and M R Shah said that voluntary contribution can always be made to the NDRF. The NGO had claimed the Centre was “refraining from divulging information” about the money “contributed to the PM CARES Fund till date”.
The Centre had on March 28 set up the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund essentially to deal with emergency situations such as the Covid-19 outbreak, and extend relief to the affected. The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund, while the ministers of defence, home and finance are its ex-officio trustees.
After the formation, the Opposition parties, including the Congress, had questioned the need for setting up of such a fund to deal with the pandemic, especially when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already exists for such purposes. They also alleged that PM CARES had been designed to avoid audit by the Controller and Auditor General and would result in a lack of transparency about the source and use of these contributions.
Many companies (public and private), individuals and government departments have contributed hundreds of crores of rupees to the PM CARES fund. Companies are also allowed to use their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to contribute to the PM CARES, whereas this facility is not available for the state-level Covid-19 funds set up by chief ministers.
In its submission to the apex court, the Centre had opposed any transfer of the PM CARES funds. “It is submitted that there are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works. PM CARES is one such fund with voluntary donations,” the centre had said in its affidavit. It argued that “mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit creation of a different fund like PM CARES Fund, which provides for voluntary donations”.
The centre had also said the NDRF, as stipulated under Section 46 of Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, consisted primarily of the fund in the form of budgetary provisions made by the central government and state governments without any private contribution.
A political slugfest broke out after Tuesday’s verdict. BJP President Nadda said it is a resounding blow to the “nefarious” designs of senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his band of “rent-a-cause” activists. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, tweeted: “The SC judgment is a body blow to transparency & accountability of Govt to people.”