The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre in a public interest litigation seeking transfer of all funds from the PM CARES Fund to the National Disaster Relief Fund to help the fight against the novel coronavirus, Live Law reported. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah asked the Centre to reply with an affidavit within four weeks.
PM CARES – an acronym for Prime Minister’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 month in the wake of the ongoing crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan filed the plea on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. It sought that the Centre be directed to use the National Disaster Relief Fund to provide assistance in fighting the pandemic, under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. For this purpose, the funds in PM CARES should be transferred to the National Disaster Relief Fund, the petitioner argued.
The plea also asked for the setting up of a National Plan under Section 11, read with Section 10, of the Disaster Management Act and the laying down of minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of the Act.
The petitioner claimed that the National Disaster Relief Fund is not being utilised by the authorities despite the growing Covid-19 crisis. Centre for Public Interest Litigation also argued that the setting up of PM CARES is outside the scope of the Disaster Management Act. It questioned the transparency of the PM CARES Fund, given that it is not subject to audits by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The petitioner also pointed out that the fund has been declared to be outside the purview of the Right to Information Act, not being a “public authority”.
Advocate Dushyant Dave, arguing for the petitioner, said that the plea was not against the government but was merely seeking its assistance. “The mandate has been completely overlooked by the government,” he argued. “The nation is suffering. Immediate intervention of the Supreme Court is required.”
In response, Justice Ashok Bhushan said that the questions of the National Plan and minimum standard of relief under the Disaster Management Act had already been taken up and argued in the suo motu matter regarding the plight of migrant workers. He said the prayer to transfer PM CARES to the National Disaster Relief Fund could be tagged along with the suo motu case.
However, Dave insisted that the matter be heard separately. Justice Kaul said it was difficult for the court to pass orders at this stage, but a notice could be issued.
Following this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, arguing for the government, said that a copy of the petition should instead be provided so that the Centre could respond to it. But the Supreme Court opted to issue a notice to the centre and listed the matter for hearing after four weeks.
On April 13, the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea that alleged that the PM CARES Fund was illegal, as it was not created by a statutory enactment. The plea sought the transfer of all donations received under the fund to be the Consolidated Fund of India and further demanded a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team into the origin of the trust.
As of Wednesday, India has reported 3.54 lakh cases of Covid-19, including 11,903 fatalities. Over 1.86 lakh people have recovered so far.