Money collected under the PM CARES Fund for the coronavirus pandemic need not be transferred to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), the Supreme Court said today, adding that funds collected by the PM Cares Fund are those of charitable trusts and "entirely different". The government is free to transfer money to the disaster response fund if it feels it is appropriate to do so, the top court said.
Hearing a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, an NGO representing opposition thinking, the apex court said that the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund does not bar anyone from making contributions or making any grant to the NDRF and that anyone is free to make a voluntary contribution.
The petition had sought a court directive to the central government to transfer the contributions made to the PM CARES Fund – a fund created to raise money for fighting the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic - to the National Disaster Response Fund.
The petitioners say the PM CARES fund violates the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, the petition argued, but the apex court said there is no such violation of provisions of any Act.
The court also said there is no need for a new plan and that one under the National Disaster Management Act, made by the government last November, is enough to address the Covi-19 pandemic.
PM CARES Fund was set up by the centre on 28 March to deal with any kind of emergency situation and provide relief to those affected. The prime minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund and the defence, home and finance ministers are ex-officio trustees.
A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah delivered the verdict through video-conferencing.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan reacted: “Unfortunate that the SC allows the non-transparent & unaccountable PM-Cares fund set up as a secret trust to garner money in the name of Covid relief, rather than transferring such funds to the Statutory NDRF, which is accessible under RTI & audited by CAG. https://t.co/jZX6Q5Y8EJ — Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 18, 2020.
The Congress and others are questioning the legal status and the need for the PM CARE Fund as also the similar Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF). They also point out that the fund is not under the audit of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The centre has defended the PM CARES Fund, saying it is a voluntary fund while budgetary allocations took care of the disaster response fund. It argued that just because the latter exists does not prohibit the creation of the PM CARES Fund for voluntary donations.
Hailing the Supreme Court verdict while terming the PM CARES Fund as "completely transparent" entity, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Rs3100 crore of its voluntary donations had been used in fight against coronavirus.
"Of this Rs2,000 crore are only for the 50,000 ventilators provided to take care of emergency needs of patients, Rs1,000 crore have been given to states to take care of the migrants' needs and Rs100 crore allocated for research on a vaccine for coronavirus," he said slamming the Congress and lobbies for building "false narratives"
"PM CARES is a registered public trust, the chairman of which is the prime minister. It has been made for Covid-type emergencies," he said, calling it very different from PM NRF. ``It is not like the family run Rajiv Gandhi Foundation which also received money from China and also PM NRF,’’ said Prasad
"Transparency is writ large in the PM CARES Fund both in the terms of legal requirements and management of funds received in an voluntary basis," Prasad added, adding that the Narendra Modi government works with complete honesty which is why it also receives blessings from the people. "The same honesty can be seen in the PM Cares Fund," he said.