- A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court to direct the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) to disclose the money it has allocated so far for COVID-19 care.
- Activist Saket Gokhale said PM-CARES should produce details of its mechanism to monitor the progress of the various projects it had allocated money for.
- On March 28, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or the PM CARES Fund, was set up to tackle distress situations such as that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In one-and-a-half months, the fund has raked in thousands of crores worth of donations including unlimited tax-free contributions from major corporates.
Who may contribute to the fund?
- The fund receives voluntary contributions from individuals and organisations and does not get any budgetary support.
- Donations have been made tax-exempt and can be counted against a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations.
- It is also exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, and accepts foreign contributions.
- The Prime Minister chairs the fund in his official capacity and can nominate three eminent persons in relevant fields to the Board of Trustees. The Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
Why does PM CARES not Qualify as a 'Public Authority Under the RTI Act?
- The Prime Minister Office refrained from providing any information regarding the PM Cares fund.
- The explanation given for the refusal was that the fund was not a Public Authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
- The applicant was requested to refer to the website for ‘relevant information.
- All the subsequent RTI applications were also rejected on the same grounds.
Section 2(h) of the RTI Act states that:
“(h) “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 –
- body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
- non-Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;”
Public Authority or not?
- The fund does not fall under clause (a), (b) or (c) of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act .
- But the fund could fall under sub-clause (i) of Section 2(h)(d): “body owned, controlled or substantially financed” by the appropriate government.
- According to the Delhi high court in the case of National Stock Exchange of India Limited v. Central Information Commission and Ors (“NSE Case”), the three conditions provided under this clause: ownership, control and substantial finance are not cumulative. i.e., even if one of the conditions is satisfied by any authority, it will be termed as a public authority.
- In one of the responses to an RTI application, the government has mentioned that the PM CARES Fund is a body owned, controlled and established by GoI.
- It was also mentioned that the fund is not a public authority as it is not financed by the appropriate government and administered by private individuals as trustees. This response is in clear violation of the law laid down by the Delhi high court in the NSE case because if ownership and control are with the government, that alone is sufficient for the fund to be a public authority.