The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations, or PM CARES, Fund has received over Rs 2,105 crore from 38 government firms since March, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. As of March 31, the fund that was set up to tackle the coronavirus crisis had a corpus of Rs 3,076.62 crore, of which Rs 3,075.85 crore was listed as “voluntary contributions” in its official website.

The firms that have contributed to the fund include Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Of these, ONGC (Rs 300 crore), NTPC (Rs 250 crore) and Indian Oil (Rs 225 crore) were the top three contributors.

On May 28, the Prime Minister’s Office had refused to divulge details of the donors to the fund. “PM Cares Fund is not a public authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act,” it had said in response to a query from The Indian Express. “However, relevant information in respect of PM CARES Fund may be seen on the website” But the website does not identify the contributors or provide details of contributions.

Most of the firms said that they had contributed the money from the unused fund earmarked for Corporate Social Responsibility for the 2019-’20 financial year. The PM CARES Fund was launched on March 28, with just four days left for the financial year to end. Some like ONGC and HPCL had contributed the money from this year’s CSR budget although the total allocation has not yet been finalised. Some contributed from allocations for 2019-’20 and 2020-’21. OIL India Limited said it contributed Rs 13 crore and Rs 25 crore, respectively, and Power Grid Corporation allotted Rs 130 crore and Rs 70 crore.

The PM Cares Fund 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 the 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. However, it has been argued that PM CARES is not subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General but by private auditors. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave 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.

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 the National Disaster Relief Fund, formed under Section 46 of the Disaster Management Act of 2005, are given by central and state budgets.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the PM CARES Fund cannot be directed to be deposited or transferred to the National Disaster Relief Fund. While disposing the petition, the court added that there was no need for a fresh national disaster relief plan for the pandemic.

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