Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday raised questions on the transparency of the ownership model of the PM-Cares fund.

PM Cares – an acronym for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations – was set up in March with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “any kind of emergency or distress situation” in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Since its inception, Opposition parties have questioned the need to create the reserve when Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is already in existence.

Gandhi tweeted a news snippet that said the Centre was “not clear” whether the fund was government-owned or a private entity.

The controversy over the fund sparked off after the trust deed made public recently on the fund’s website did not define it as a government trust, reported NDTV.

Earlier on Wednesday, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala raised questions over the fund receiving donations from China, Pakistan and Qatar, without being audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and being exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

He also asked why the government accepted funds from foreign sources if the fund was not a public-owned one, as claimed by the Centre in response to Right to Information queries.

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office denied to give information under the Act related to the PM-Cares fund saying it would “disproportionately divert the resources”. Another RTI application with the Prime Minister’s Office asking for the trust deed, filed by NDTV, was rejected on the grounds that the fund is not a public entity, the news channel reported.

Doubts over ownership of PM-Cares

A clause in the trust deed document calls PM-Cares Fund a private entity, which exempts it from RTI scrutiny, according to the NDTV report. “The trust is neither intended to be or is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any government or any instrumentality of the government,” according to point 5.3 of the Trust Deed. “There is no control of either the central government or any state governments, either direct or indirect, in the functioning of the trust in any manner whatsoever.”

But this is despite the fact that the fund has been registered with the revenue department of Delhi, with the prime minister as chairperson and senior ministers as trustees.

This, however, is not the first with controversy for the fund. The trust was registered on March 27 this year, and on the next day, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued an office memorandum qualifying PM-Cares as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative to receive corporate donations.

According to documents accessed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, PM-Cares was defined as a “fund set up by the central government”, in the corporate affairs memorandum. But the trust deed said it was not government-run, and thus was not eligible for corporate donations.

The contradiction was addressed only two months later, on May 26, when the Ministry of Corporate Affairs added PM-Cares to the Companies Act, which prescribes eligibility for corporate social responsibility donations. The change in Companies Act was done retrospectively from March 28.