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PM CARES FUND VERSUS RTI ACT

SYLLABUS: GS MAINS PAPER 2

Recently, the government has claimed that PM CARES Fund is not a “public authority”. The manner in which the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was set up- with its acronym created to publicise the point that the Prime Minister cares for people shows a bypassing of the statutory obligations of a public authority.

PM CARES FUND

1. PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust with the Prime Minister as its chairman. Other members include Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.

2. The government has set up the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES FUND) to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation like posed by the covid-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected.

3. The fund enables micro-donations and it will strengthen disaster management capacities and encourage research on protecting citizens.

ISSUES WITH PM CARES Fund

1. The PM CARES Fund was neither created by the constitution of India nor by any statute. If that is the case, under what authority does the designation of Prime Minister, designated symbols of the nation, the tricolour and the official (gov.in) PMO website, tax concession through ordinance etc.

2. Critics argue that PM CARES Fund is controversial, unanswerable and non-accountable vehicle as its character is not spelt out till today.

3. The PM CARES Fund centralises the collection of donation and its utility, which is not only against the federal character but also practically inconvenient.

4. It has been created not by law, not by notification but by the mere creation of a web page.

5. The amount collected by it, does not go to the consolidated fund of India.

Hence, it is not audited by CAG raising suspicions on accountability and transparency.

6. There is no control of either the central government or any state government either direct or indirect functioning of the trust.

FUNDING AVENUES

1. The mere grant of certain tax exemptions with regard to the voluntary donations made to public trust is not a determinative factor for the purpose of section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

2. An ordinance was promulgated to amend Income tax Act, 1961 and declare that the donations to the PM CARES Fund “would qualify for 80G benefits for 100% tax exemption”.

Note: section 80G of the act allows donations made to specified relief funds and charitable institutions as a deduction from gross total income.

3. The official website and the PIB also declared that donations to the PM CARES Fund “would qualify for 80G benefits for 100% tax exemption under the Income tax Act, 1961”.

4. Donations to PM CARES Fund will also qualify to be counted as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013.

5. PM CARES Fund has also get exemptions under the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) and a separate account for receiving foreign donations has been opened.

AFFIDAVIT FILED IN DELHI HIGH COURT

The PM CARES Fund lists its structure, functions, and duties in an arbitrary manner. The official appeals for funds are made under the emblem of the Saranath lions and ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which means ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’.

Therefore, the recent affidavit where the Delhi High Court was informed that the PM CARES Fund and the amount collected by it does not go to the consolidated fund of India.

The affidavit was filed by an undersecretary at the PMO, who added that the trust functions with transparency. The most significant lie of this sworn statement is that the government has no control over the fund.

The petition is seeking the PM CARES Fund to be declared as the “state” under Article 12 of the constitution.

SECTION 2(h) OF THE RTI ACT

To understand whether the PM CARES Fund is a public authority or not, it is important to understand the scope of the definition of “public authority” as provided under section 2(h) of the RTI Act. It states that

“public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted

a) by or under the constitution.

b) by any other law made by parliament.

c) by any other law made by state legislature.

d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government, and includes any

i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed.

ii) non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.

CONCLUSION

As we go through legal route, Section 19 of the Indian Trusts Act mandates the trustees to present full and accurate information of the amount and state of the trust property to the beneficiaries. Because of this statutory access, all information about PM CARES Fund should be accessible under RTI Act. The government should act as per its oath of transparency and make the PM CARES Fund open and transparent. The fund should be designated as “public authority” under section 2(h) of the RTI Act

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