The three armed forces of India – the army, navy and the air force – have contributed Rs 203.67 crore from the salaries of their personnel to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations, or PM Cares, Fund, The Indian Express reported on Friday, citing records accessed under the Right to Information Act.

PM-Cares is a fund set up by the Centre 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. Ever since its launch on March 27, to provide relief from the countrywide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, donations began pouring in and haven’t stopped.

The Indian Air Force, in an RTI response dated November 25, said that it contributed a total of Rs 29.18 crore between April and October to the fund. The donations were made “by IAF personnel”, it said.

Providing a monthly break of its contribution, the Air Force said it donated Rs 25.03 crore in April, Rs 75.24 lakh in May and Rs 1.08 crore in June. In July, the IAF contributed Rs 73.93 lakh, followed by Rs 61.18 lakh in August, Rs 50.27 lakh in September, and Rs 46.70 lakh in the month of October.

The Indian Navy, on the other hand, stated that it contributed Rs 16.77 crore to the PM-Cares Fund between April and October. Out of this, Rs 12.41 crore was contributed “in respect of officers and sailors”, while the remaining Rs 4.36 crore was donated “in respect of civilian personnel” of the Navy.

The Integrated Headquarters under the Ministry of Defence stated that “contribution made from other heads is not available with the concerned directorate”. The Navy also did not provide a month-wise breakup of these donations.

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The Indian Army did not respond to the newspaper’s RTI application. However, a tweet posted by the Additional Directorate General of Public Information on May 15 had reportedly revealed that Indian Army personnel have “voluntarily contributed” Rs 157.71 crore in April “towards nation’s fight against Covid-19 to PM CARES fund”.

On March 29, a press release from the Ministry of Defence had stated that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved a proposal for the contribution of one day salary by the employees of ministry to the PM-CARES Fund.

“It is estimated that around Rs 500 crore will be collectively provided by the Defence Ministry to the fund from various wings, including Army, Navy, Air Force, Defence PSUs and others,” the press release had said, adding that the employee contribution was voluntary and those who want to opt out from the scheme would be exempted.

Slew of donations

On September 28, the newspaper had reported that the PM Cares Fund received Rs 204.75 crore from the salaries of employees in 15 government banks and institutions. Several educational institutions, including Navodaya schools, Indian Institutes of Technology and central universities, also contributed Rs 21.81 crore to the fund. Most of these funds were also from the salaries of employees.

Before that in August, RTI data had shown that the PM Cares Fund had received over Rs 2,105 crore from 38 government firms since March. The firms that have contributed to the fund included Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, Airports Authority of India and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The PM Cares Fund is described as a “public charitable trust” on the official website. It is registered under the Registration Act, 1908. Despite its popularity, the fund has run into controversy over issues of transparency and accountability.

Opposition parties have also questioned the need to create the reserve when Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already existed.

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.

In May, the Centre had refused to provide details about the PM Cares Fund to a Right to Information applicant, arguing that even though it is administered by the government, it is not a public authority, and therefore not subject to right to information laws.