PM-CARES Fund “Not a Public Authority”
The Prime Minister‘s Office (PMO) has clarified that the PM Cares fund is not a public authority. Thus the office of Prime Minister on Friday, 29 May, refused to divulge details of the PM cares fund under the RTI act. The PM – Cares fund was created on 28 March, with Prime Minister as its chairperson and senior Cabinet member serving as trustee following the COVID-19 outbreak.
What is Public Authority under RTI?
Under the RTI act, a public authority is an organization established
- Under or by constitution
- By any other law made by Parliament
- Buy a notification or order issued by the government.
The definition also covers organizations financed by the government and non-governmental organizations.
The PM’s office issued a statement in response to an RTI filed by Harsha Kandkuri, a Bangalore-based law student in April. The application sought details of the Constitution of the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations fund, Copies of the Fund Trust Deed and the Relevant Government Orders related to its creation and functioning.
Response to RTI filled
The PM cares fund is not a public authority under the scope of section 2(h) of the RTI act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of the fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in the PMO said in response to the RTI application.
Harsha Kandukuri Reaction towards Response to RTI
Kandukuri said he would file a statutory appeal against the decision of the PMO. According to him the name, the composition of trust, control, usage of emblem, government domain name everything signifies that it is a public authority. By simply ruling that it is not a public authority and denying the application on the RTI act the Government has constructed walls of secrecy around it.
This is not about the lack of transparency and denying the application of the RTI act to the fund we should also be worried about how the fund is being operated. For a trust which is created and run by four cabinet ministers in their ex-officio capacity, denying the status of public authority is a big blow to transparency and not to mention our democratic value, Kandukuri told this to the legal news site.
The opposition has also questioned the need for the creation of this fund i.e. PM – Cares Fund as PM’s National Relief Fund already exists to receive donations for such emergencies. Most criticism of PM Cares has centered on the lack of transparency of this fund. The details of the donors and utilization of funds missing from the website.
- The PM Cares Fund has reportedly received ₹6500 crore in the first week of its launch, the total donation received so far is around ₹10,000 crore.
- The bulk of contributions come from the corporate, the public sector undertakings and central ministers and departments.
- The Central Public Sector Enterprises under the ministries of power and new and renewable energy had contributed ₹925 crore.
- While public sector oil companies including ONGC, IOC, Bharat Petroleum had contributed over ₹1000 crore.
Auditing or No Auditing?
Earlier, the Comptroller and Auditor General Office had clarified to the NDTV that it won’t audit the PM – Cares Fund as it is a charitable organization and pays for donations from individuals as well as organizations. The PMNRF is not audited by the CAG but by an independent auditor outside the government.
In the year 2018, a division bench of the Delhi High Court was split on the issue of whether PMNRF is a public authority under the RTI act and is liable to disclosure of information to applicants. Regarding this issue Justice Ravindra said it was a public authority but Justice Sunil Grover was of the different opinion. Hence this matter was forwarded to the Chief Justice of the High Court for an opinion and this matter is still pending.
The government of India has to overcome a lot more than this current pandemic. Unfortunately by acting harshly it has chosen to alienate chief ministers of various states, as well as civil society, during the health and economic crisis. The PM- Cares Fund according to my opinion must be open to public scrutiny, the Government must learn to trust and cooperate with various State Governments in their fundraising efforts as well as it should allow and support civil society to act freely and do the best of their efforts.
Now, I would like to end by saying we must wait to see if Harsha Khudukari files an appeal against the decision of the PMO then only we will get to know more about it – Whether PM – Cares Fund comes under the public authority or not.
Author: Umang Bhatla,
Delhi Metropolitan Education, affiliated to GGSIPU, 3rd Yr.