Pandemics are always known to give major shocks before they die. With the increasing cases of Covid-19 in India, it now has the largest number of confirmed cases in Asia. The objective of the PM CARES Fund (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund) is to fight against COVID-19. Right to Information Act, 2005 helps people of India to have transparency in the working of government. This Act helps citizens to be informed about the government activities and financial work of the government. This article answers whether PM CARES Fund comes under the purview of RTI Act, 2005 or not.
The objective of the PM CARES Fund is to provide money for the quality treatment to people affected by COVID-19 and for the research of vaccines to beat Coronavirus. Two Public Interest Litigations (PIL) have been filed which pursue that PM CARES Fund should come in the ambit of the RTI Act. All people from celebrities to common people, from educated to uneducated all came together to help in this pandemic situation. This showed an extraordinary response that was not seen from the past many years in India. The petition was meant for urgent hearing. The petition was filed to divulge all the information, like the collection and utilization of money to citizens of India. The petition also mentioned that the victims of the virus are not in a position to see if their rights are enforced. They are fighting this big problem and have no time to see where the money, which is being collected to help them is going. Both the petitions have been excused by the Apex Court of India on the grounds that PM CARES Fund is not ‘Public Authority’ under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Composition of PM CARES Fund
PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust. It was formed in March 2020 because of the worldwide pandemic, COVID-19. The fundamental goal of this reserve is to manage such an emergency and bad conditions by supporting the people affected. As per the reports, the money collected was around INR 6500 crores in a period of seven days after its formation. The funds were put through disapproval by opposition on the ground of the already existing Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. Any individual can give in this reserve and can get a 100% tax exemption according to Income Tax rules.
The Prime Minister is the Ex-Officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and Ex-Officio Trustees include the Defense Minister, Home Minister, and Finance Minister. The Prime Minister also has the power to nominate three other people as Trustees of the Board of Trustees, who should be eminent personalities in the fields of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration, and philanthropy. The fund helps in the exploration, development, and improvement work of medical care or medication offices in the nation. Also, if the trustees of the board regard it important then the money related help to the affected populace can likewise be given. Recent reports say that the fund has received donations of over Rs.10000 crores.
PM CARES Fund and Right to Information
On April 1, a PIL was filed by Harsha Kandukuri, a student of Azim Premji University, Bangalore asking many questions about the collection and utilization of the funds collected. Also, on April 21, Greater Noida resident and environment activist, Vikrant Togad raised the question of how much money was deposited in this fund. The central government refused to share the information under the Right to Information (RTI) about the PM CARES Fund and maintained secrecy. The Prime Minister’s Office replied to this petition that Vikrant Togad has asked several questions under different subjects for which he has to pay separately. Hence the government can’t reveal information in this situation. The PMO replied to this petition within six days.
The PMO also argued that the PM CARES Fund is not a ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and therefore the government is not compelled to dispatch any information about the deposits or utilization of funds. Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 states that “public authority” means “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted—
- by or under the Constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by State Legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any— (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;”
It is argued that the PM CARES Fund is a trust in which individuals and organizations contribute voluntarily and beyond the full-fledged scrutiny of the CAG. Different services and government divisions had given handouts to its workers to contribute one day’s compensation to the fund. The donation could be paid between this year May to next year March, covering the whole financial year. Kandukuri had looked for duplicates of the trust deed and all administration requests, booklets, and warnings identified with PM CARES Fund creation and working.
The greater part of the donation originates from corporate, the public sector endeavors, and central ministries and divisions. The public sector endeavors under the ministries of power and new and renewable energy had contributed Rs 925 crore by April 3, while open segment oil organizations including ONGC, IOC, Bharat Petroleum had offered over Rs 1,000 crore. If the PM CARES Fund is not a ‘public authority’ then it is reasonable to say that it is not controlled and managed by the government of India. If we look at things like title, emblem other things that represent the body as government-oriented and signifies that it comes under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005. By keeping secrecy, the government is trying to build suspense and confidentiality.
Relationship between PM CARES Fund And RTI
If we look carefully at Section 2(h)(d), it unmistakably expresses that “public authority” “includes anybody owned, controlled or substantially financed directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government.” If we talk about control, at this point the fund is heavily influenced by the Government as the Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES Fund, and the ministers of Home Affairs, Defense and Finance are its ex-officio trustees. They also have the power to appoint three extra trustees. Aside from this, they can even define rules/criteria for spending the assets of the trust. Looking at the financing part, the assortment of Rs.10,000 crores has been produced by donations generally from the Public Sector Undertakings, Central Ministries and Departments and individuals from the military, and compensations of government workers and employees in judicial services which have been compulsorily collected into the fund.
Presently the inquiry which emerges here is that if the PMO isn’t thinking about the PM CARES Fund as a ‘public authority’, then the assessment of whether the public specialists at the most significant level could evoke the government offices, public servants to add to this fund whose subtleties are tried to be kept non-straightforward. Also, the PM CARES Fund has the logo that uses the State Emblem of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka which is prohibited as the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005. The Act denies the inappropriate utilization of the State Emblem of India for professional and business use and for different reasons associated with it. The fund likewise utilizes the emblem on avenues where the money is advanced and consequently infringing upon Section 3 of the Emblem Act which expresses that “no individual will utilize the emblem in any way which will, in general, make a feeling that it identifies the Government” and hence, the utilization of emblem isn’t reasonable.
The name, the structure of the trust, control, usage of emblem, government area name everything implies that it is an open power. By simply stating that it is anything but not a public authority and denying the application on RTI Act, the legislature has developed walls of mystery around it. This isn’t about the absence of straightforwardness and denying the application of the RTI Act to the fund, we ought to likewise be stressed over how the reserve is being worked. We should know about the dynamic cycle of the trust and safeguards available, so the fund is not misused.
For a trust which is made and run by four cabinet ministers in their ex-officio limits, denying the status of ‘public authority’ is a major hit to the transparency of the government and on our democratic values. As a resident of the nation, it is imperative to know about the activities proposed by the administration body. There ought to be a relationship of straightforwardness between the legislature of a nation and its residents. A relationship of trust can only be fabricated if the administration keeps its people informed. The refusal and failure to uncover the data about the PM CARES Fund are simply making questions and holding the citizens under misdirection. I believe that not only people affected by the virus but also other people should know about the working of this trust. Closing, I believe that the Apex Court ought to convey a judgment which is agreeable to the citizens as they should have the option to know about where the money is really going and whether it is getting used appropriately.
- What do you think about PM CARES Fund being ‘public authority?
- Does PM CARES Fund come in purview of RTI Act, 2005?
- Should transparency be maintained between the PM CARES Fund and people of the country?
- Should a petition be heard in High Court ?
- What do you think, should the Apex Court pass the judgement hearing both sides and make the right decision?