The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order 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.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, told a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan that the PM CARES Fund is a “voluntary fund”, while funds to the NDRF and the State Disaster Response Fund were made available through budgetary allocations.

PM CARES – an acronym for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations – was created on March 28 in response to the coronavirus crisis. The prime minister is the fund’s chairperson and senior Cabinet members serve as trustees. Opposition parties have questioned the need to create the reserve when Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is already in existence. They had also expressed doubts about the fund’s transparency.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan filed the plea on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. It sought that the government 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.

Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the non-governmental organisation, argued on Monday that the setting up of the PM-CARES Fund was in fact, a “fraud upon the Constitution”.

He added that they are not “doubting the bona fide of anyone” but the creation of the PM CARES Fund is allegedly in contravention of provisions of the Disaster Management Act, according to PTI. Dave also claimed that an audit of the NDRF is being conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor-General but for the PM CARES Fund, the government has said the audit will be done by private auditors.

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Meanwhile, advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for an NGO, made submissions before the bench regarding the alleged absence of a national plan for tackling the pandemic situation. He said the plan put forth on record by the Centre did not meet the standards of the Disaster Management Act. Sibal argued that under the Act, the government must have a district plan at a time of a disaster. “Minimum requirements regarding water, shelter, etc, need to be provided,” he added. “Where are these standards?”

However, Mehta rebutted Sibal’s arguments and said the existing National Plan addresses district level issues as well. “When we faced a particular biological disaster, namely, [in this particular instance] Covid-19, we immediately made a plan regarding it,” he added “This plan envisages district level as well.”

Mehta added that Sibal’s arguments are “factually incorrect” as the National Disaster Management Plan from 2019 includes provisions for a biological disaster. “The plan cannot be static.” he said. “Risk assessment and global approach need to be taken into account. When the plan for biological disasters was envisaged, we could not foresee such a disaster [Covid-19].”

On July 11, the Centre had justified the creation of the PM CARES fund saying the mere existence of a statutory fund under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, would not prohibit the setting up of a different one that provides for voluntary donations. It also opposed the suggestion that the contributions be transferred to the National Disaster Response Fund and said all funds other than the funds stipulated under the Act are created under separate provisions.