Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien on Wednesday said that the PM CARES Fund, set up in March in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by the prime minister’s office, was the most “opaque dark fund” in the world and referred to it as the “PM couldn’t-care-less” fund, NDTV reported. O’Brien also accused the government of using the coronavirus pandemic to turn a democracy into an autocracy.
“This government needs humility to work with states to fight Covid-19,” the TMC leader told the Rajya Sabha during the third day of the Parliament’s Monsoon Session. “You must not use pandemic to convert democracy into an autocracy.”
He added that the Centre did not take state governments into confidence while making decisions on the coronavirus outbreak. “When things are going well, you want to take credit,” O’Brien said, according to Firstpost. “When they are not, you start talking about chief ministers.”
He said that the government had announced a countrywide lockdown with only four hours notice and “no preparation”. “[Then] there is [the] most opaque, dark fund in the world... It is called the prime minister’s couldn’t-care-less fund,” O’Brien quipped, adding: “Oh I said the name wrong...”
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”. It was created on March 28 in response to the coronavirus crisis. 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.
Modi’s office, which manages PM CARES, has refused to disclose the disclose the details about it, arguing that even though it is administered by the Centre, it is not a public authority, and therefore not subject to right-to-information laws.
The Supreme Court had on August 18 rejected a plea to transfer the PM CARES Fund to the National Disaster Relief Fund. While disposing of the petition, the court added that there was no need for a fresh national disaster relief plan for the pandemic.
On Tuesday, O’Brien had also opposed to the Centre’s methods and strategy to handle the coronavirus outbreak. He accused accused the government of not preparing for the lockdown but instead making arrangements for the visit of United States President Donald Trump to India in February, a month after the first case of the coronavirus was reported in the country. “You were giving Trump ladoos, you were giving him dhokla,” he said. “That is the time when you announced this lockdown.”
The Trinamool Congress leader had also criticised Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan for only congratulating Modi for the fight against the coronavirus and not state governments and health workers.