Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Monday questioned the creation of a public charitable trust for accepting donations to the new “PM-CARES fund”, and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi owes an explanation for the decision. Tharoor was reacting to a Twitter post that noted that a huge amount of money was lying unused in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
PM-CARES – an acronym for PM’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations – is a fund set up by the Centre with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “any kind of emergency or distress situation”. The fund was announced by Modi last week in the wake of the ongoing crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government had said that the fund would enable small donations as the prime minister believes that public participation is important in a crisis.
A Twitter user posted a chart highlighting the difference between the income and expenditure of the already-existing PM National Relief Fund, whose donations have risen strikingly since Modi took office in 2014. “Look at the difference between the income & expenditure of Prime Minister’s Relief Fund from 2014-2019,” the Twitter user wrote. “Looks like there are some [Rs] 2200 crores lying idle in this account.”
Responding to the tweet, Tharoor said that the PM National Relief Fund could have been renamed PM-CARES and asked Modi to explain the need for a separate fund. “Why not simply rename PMNRF [Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund] as PM-CARES, given the PM’s penchant for catchy acronyms, instead of creating a separate Public Charitable Trust whose rules & expenditure are totally opaque.” Tharoor said. “@PMOIndia you owe the country an explanation for this highly unusual step.”
Other Twitter users have also raised questions about creating a separate fund and accused Modi of using the crisis to enhance his image. Historian Ramachandra Guha said the fund’s name was “self-aggrandizing” and Modi had used a tragedy to enhance the “cult” of his personality.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said the fund should have been named “India-CARES”. “We all care about our fellow-citizens and their well-being and must help in every way,” he wrote on Twitter. “Why just ‘PM-CARES’? INDIA-CARES is what it should have been.”
India has more than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus and 29 people have died. Last week, the country went under a 21-day lockdown. Across the nation, only essential services are operating and people have been told to strictly practice social distancing. Migrant workers, left without jobs and shelter in big cities, are returning home in huge numbers amid fears that the disease may spiral out of control.