The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the PM CARES Fund, set up in March in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by the prime minister’s office, cannot be directed to be deposited or transferred to the National Disaster Relief Fund, reported Live Law. While disposing the petition, the court added that there was no need for a fresh national disaster relief plan for the pandemic.

The court was hearing a bunch of petitions, including one from the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Prashant Bhushan, to transfer funds from PM CARES to the National Disaster Relief Fund to help tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, and MR Shah also said that no institutions and individual can be prohibited to make contributions to the PM CARES Fund. The court clarified that the Centre will be free to transfer funds to NDRF as it deems appropriate.

PM Cares – an acronym for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations – was set up with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “any kind of emergency or distress situation”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi 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 have also expressed doubts about the fund’s transparency.

Last month, the Centre told the top court that the PM Cares Fund is a “public charitable trust” to which anyone can contribute, adding that it is a “misconception” that contributions received by a public trust like this can be transferred to a statutory fund like the NDRF. It added that funds to the NDRF and the State Disaster Response Fund were made available through budgetary allocations.

However, Dave had argued that PM CARES is not subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General but by private auditors. He said it is not under “public scrutiny” and contributions to it are “100% tax free”.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said corporate social responsibility or CSR benefits are given to PM Cares Fund, and they are denied to the state disaster relief funds.

The court had reserved its order in the case and the need for a specific national plan to handle natural disasters and pandemics.

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 had explained that funds like NDRF, formed under Section 46 of the Disaster Management Act of 2005, are given by central and state budgets.

Also read:

  1. Here is why PM CARES should be scrutinised by the CAG – not by independent auditors
  2. In charts: How the PM-Cares fund is hurting India’s NGOs