April 8, 2020
The Modi government has struggled to justify the creation of a new PM-CARES fund to support India’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already exists.
In off-record briefings, Modi government functionaries have pointed to several features which set apart the new fund from the old. Some of them include the provision for a 10 member advisory board and non-inclusion of the Congress party president in the PM CARES fund.
Incidentally, in her letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday suggested transfer of all money collected in the PM-CARES fund to the PMNRF to ensure “efficiency, transparency, accountability and audit in the manner in which these funds are allocated and spent”.
However, official documents show the PM-CARES and the PMNRF are similar in one crucial regard: both funds do not disclose the identities of all their donors and beneficiaries despite managing thousands of crores of public money.
While the PMNRF website shows a total balance of Rs 3800.44 crores, media reports about the PM-CARES fund cite only publicly declared donations to show that it had amassed Rs 6500 crores within a week of being set up.
But if the audited reports on the PMNRF website do not reveal details about who the donors and beneficiaries are, the official statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office about the PM-CARES fund and its dedicated page on the Prime Minister’s official website both do not disclose these details either.
HuffPost India has asked the Modi government if it plans to publish the details of all donors, beneficiaries, and the trust deed of the PM-CARES, which has been registered as a “public charitable trust”. This report will be updated if and when the government responds.
“It’s the same cap on the other head,” said right to information activist Aseem Takyar about the PM-CARES fund, implying that it is also non-transparent in the same way as the PMNRF in its present form.
Rather than set up a new fund, activists like Takyar say, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ought to have brought the PMNRF under parliamentary oversight, and allowed the fund to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
Takyar has been battling for transparency in PMNRF finances for years, but was denied information by the Prime Minister’s Office during both Manmohan Singh and Modi’s tenure, indicating a rare consensus on keeping these specific details away from public scrutiny. Worryingly, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance And Relief in Emergency Situation (PM-CARES) Fund appears to be similarly opaque.
“I have now filed an RTI seeking details about the PM-CARES fund as well,” Takyar said.
“Suppose there is a dubious businessman who comes from Dubai, gives a cheque of Rs 1 crore to the Prime Minister and clicks a photograph. There is a possibility of some wrong money, some hawala money also finding its way to the fund,” he said. “So I want to know details about all donors who are contributing to the fund. There has to be transparency.”
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, the current president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said a new fund was not needed but now that one has been created, the government should take the first step and allay fears about lack of transparency.
“It would be nice if the government were to clarify and allay the fears of the people by saying that we will subject it to the CAG audit,” Dave said.
“Everything that the government does, as per my understanding of the constitution, it has to be subject to CAG’s audit. That is the constitutional requirement. These are ultimately funds raised by the government, these are not funds raised in private capacity by the Prime Minister. So all funds which are raised and given by the people in whatever form, even if it is in the form of a relief fund, must be subject to audit automatically,” he argued. Read More