The Centre has said in a new Right to Information reply that the PM-CARES or the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations fund is a body “owned and established” by the government. The government’s response contradicted its recent claim that the fund was private.
The government made the declaration while responding to RTI applicant Commodore (retired) Lokesh K Batra’s query on Thursday. It, however, said that PM-CARES does not come under the RTI act because it receives funds from private sources.
“This Fund (PM CARES FUND) is completely Financed by donations received from individuals/ organizations/CSRs [corporate social responsibility] / Foreign individuals / foreign organization / PSUs and not at-all financed by the appropriate government and administered by the private individual as Trustees, which is a compulsory condition to invoke section 2(h) of the Right to information Act, 2005 and therefore, PM CARES Fund cannot be considered as a public authority,” the government’s RTI response, seen by Scroll.in, stated.
The controversy over PM-CARES’ ownership erupted earlier this month after the fund’s trust deed was made public. A clause in the document called the fund a private entity, exempting it from RTI scrutiny, according to NDTV.
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The fund has, however, been registered with the revenue department of Delhi, with the prime minister as chairperson and senior ministers as trustees. Opposition parties have repeatedly raised questions about the fund’s transparency, and have questioned the need to create the reserve when Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already existed.
This is not the first controversy surrounding 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 the Companies Act was done retrospectively from March 28.
The PM-CARES fund was established 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. Public sector firms, the armed forces and banks have contributed crores of rupees to the fund.