The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a plea seeking the transfer of money for the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) fund to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) saying that it cannot direct the government to do so and that funds collected by the PM Cares Fund are entirely different and that these are funds of charitable trusts.
The petition was filed by the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking the transfer of the fund from PM CARES – which was launched by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The NGO, in its petition, has claimed the Centre was “refraining from divulging information” about the money “contributed to the PM CARES Fund till date.
Any contribution or grant can be credited to the NDRF and anyone can contribute to this fund as a voluntary contribution, the top court said.
The apex court further said that there is no need for a new plan and that one under the National Disaster Management Act is enough to deal with COVID-19.
A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah delivered the verdict today through video-conferencing.
As reported by the Indian Express, the Centre had argued against transferring the funds, saying it “is neither maintainable on merits nor is otherwise maintainable under Article 32 as all funds other than the funds stipulated under Section 46 of DM Act, 2005 are separate, different and distinct, created separately under separate provisions”.
It had also said, “There does exist a National Disaster Response Fund as stipulated under Section 46 of Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005 which so far consisted of the fund in the form of budgetary provisions made by the Central government in NDRF and state governments and Central government in State Disaster Response Funds without any private contribution.”
“It is submitted that there are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works. PM CARES is one such fund with voluntary donations,” the affidavit noted.
“Mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit creation of a different fund like PM CARES Fund which provides for voluntary donations,” it said.
Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh lauded the SC’s decision and said, “Hope that should send out a message…loud and clear.”
Supreme Court of India upholds the validity of #PMCaresFund . Refuses to instruct Govt to transfer fund to NDRF . Hope that should send out a message…loud and clear.
— Dr Jitendra Singh (@DrJitendraSingh) August 18, 2020
However, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was found guilty of contempt of court recently, expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s decision by quoting the decision as “unfortunate”.
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
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala on the court’s decision said, “The SC Judgment is a body blow to transparency & accountability of Govt to people. It marks a sad letter day for responsibility & answerability of rulers to the electorate and remind them that they are not ‘Monarchs’ but ‘servants of the people’.”
The PM CARES Fund set up to fight COVID-19 has been a bone of contention between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
The Congress has repeatedly questioned the Government’s intention behind setting up PM-CARES as it not audited by CAG, not is subject to RTI.
The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund is not a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), the PMO has maintained while refusing to divulge information on the same.