In 1970, feminist Carol Hanisch gave the popular slogan “The Personal is Political” but we didn’t know that the reverse is also true until PMO India rejected the plea of a student activist claiming that PM CARES Fund is not a “public authority”.
Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund that was introduced to combat the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic has been the talk of the town for its ambiguity and opaqueness. The opposition, as well as Civil Society members, have raised questions on why there is so much secrecy being kept on something that is for the good of the public.
- Fund Collected from Public declared as a Private Fund
The total amount of funds collected since March 28, 2020, is approximately Rs.10, 000 crore. PMO in reply to the RTI filed by Harsha Kundakarni said, “Relevant information in respect of PM CARES Fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in.” This statement is as vague as the website of PM CARES Fund that does not have any clear or comprehensive details of the source of funds and details of expenditure. However, it is not a recent controversy. In 2018, the ambiguity of the PMNRF Fund was also questioned in the Delhi High Court whether it should come under the ambit of the RTI act or not. The case is still pending in the court. The plea filed by Surendra Singh Hooda, an advocate in the Supreme Court argued that the corpus has been developed by donations largely from the government employees and PSUs; thereby it must be available under the ambit of RTI act.
- Deliberate Creation of New Fund
The opposition raised questions on why a separate fund was created when the PMNRF (Prime Minister National Relief Fund) already existed to deal with such crises. According to the data available as of December 2019, the PMNRF has an unused amount of Rs. 3800 crore in its corpus. Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi in a five-point letter suggested that all funds from PM CARES should be transferred to the PMNRF so that it can be made more accountable and transparent. The detailed analysis of the functioning of PM CARES Fund makes us realize that it is like a private trust run by public donations.
- Independent Auditors
As per the Indian Government, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India will not audit PM CARES Fund; instead, Independent Auditors will inspect the fund. This raised several questions on the heightening mystery and secrecy behind this fund. The spokespersons of the ruling party argued that the same case was with the PMNRF where Independent Auditors were appointed for the process of auditing. However, there is a slight discrepancy between both the funds, as in the case of PMNRF, the government auditors could ask questions on the expenditure of the funds while for the PM CARES Fund, the government auditors require the consent of trustees. On this issue, Former Finance and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said, “PM CARES Trust has FM, RM, and HM as members. PMNRF has Congress President and reps of FICCI and Tata Trust as members. Therefore, the second is transparent and the first is opaque. It is also in violation of the official symbols act. The two trusts are not comparable.“
- A Mandatory Order disguised as an Appeal
The revenue department of the Ministry of Finance issued a circular appealing all the employees and staff to contribute their 1-day’s salary to PM CARES. However, a paragraph in the circular, which stated that anyone having any issue with contribution, must inform DDO (Drawing and Disbursing Officer) clearly indicates that it is not an appeal but a mandatory order. Who would go to DDO to intimate him for refusal to this ‘optional’ contribution risking their employment and rapport with the higher officials? It was a smart move by the Central Government to bring a huge amount of money in the fund without officially making the donations mandatory.
- Acceptance of CSR Funding
As per the Companies Act 2013, all corporates are mandated to expend at least 2% of their average net profit; the Central Govt. in March declared that they would accept CSR funding. However, this raises a plethora of questions. Firstly, this has caused severe harm to the NGO sector, which is actually doing the real work on the ground. As per the reports, most of the corporates have donated to either PM CARES Fund or State Relief Fund. Besides the harm to the NGOs, this raises the questions of accountability and transparency as the funding of PM CARES is not public. A corporation may declare that it has contributed this amount as CSR to the PM CARES but where are the official records of that?
PM CARES Fund has become a mockery in itself. When the Ministry of Railways donated Rs.151 crore to the PM CARES but could not provide trains to the destitute migrant workers walking on foot, when Reliance Industry contributed Rs.500 crore to the fund but cut off the salaries of its own employees, it points out to the Bhakti, the Indian Twitteratis tweet about every other day.
To put it simply, the central government must clear all the ambiguity and mystery surrounding PM CARES FUND to restore the faith that the public money (that is now in the ‘private fund’) is being used for the betterment of the public. In the words of Edward Snowden, “there can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny – they should be setting the example of transparency.“
Aman Singh is a student pursuing BA Programme from Jamia Millia Islamia.
edited by: Maryam Ahmed
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.