West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday criticised the Centre for its claim in court that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or PM-CARES fund, is not a public authority under the Right to Information Act, PTI reported.
The central government’s statement on the PM-CARES fund “left us all confused”, Banerjee said at a campaign rally for the bye-elections in West Bengal’s Bhabanipur constituency.
In an affidavit submitted to the Delhi High Court on September 14, the Centre had stated that the PM-CARES fund can neither be listed as “the State” nor a “public authority” under the Right to Information Act.
The affidavit was submitted in response to a plea that said that to ensure transparency in the fund’s handling, it should be declared “the State”. The petition, filed by a lawyer named Samyak Gangwal, also sought that PM-CARES be declared a “public authority” under the RTI Act.
According to Article 12 of the Constitution of India, “the State” includes “the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India”.
Banerjee pointed out that government employees have contributed to the PM-CARES Fund, and private companies have also donated to it as part of their corporate social responsibility.
“...Lakhs of crores of rupees have been donated,” the West Bengal chief minister said. “So where is that money?”
The chief minister asserted that the central government should maintain transparency about the money collected through the PM-CARES Fund, India Today reported.
Since the Centre made the submission to the court, other Opposition leaders have also picked holes in its stand on the matter.
On Thursday, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury posted a tweet carrying a news report on the Union finance ministry asking its staff to donate a day’s salary every month to the fund.
“PM-CARES Fund not a fund of Government of India, Delhi HC told,” Yechury said in the tweet. “If so, how are such orders issued. Stop this fraud. Outright loot. Fund must be transparent audited & accountable.”
Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh also tweeted a news report raising the matter.
In April 2020, Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba had written to secretaries of various ministries, departments and public sector companies, to ask their employees to donate a day’s salary to the fund. Reports have shown that the fund has received hundreds of crores from banks, financial institutions, public sector firms and the armed forces.
The PM-CARES FUND was established in March last year with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “any kind of emergency or distress situation” in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairperson of the trust, while senior ministers are its trustees.
The government has said it did not intend to own or finance the fund.
“PM CARES Fund comprises voluntary donations made by individuals and institutions and is not a part of business or function of the central government in any manner,” the government submitted in the affidavit.
It added: “PM CARES Fund is not a part of any government scheme or business of the central government and being a public trust, it is also not subject to audit of Comptroller and Auditor General of India.”