Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
(A discussion on the PM CARES Fund in the Lok Sabha eventually led to ruckus and an adjournment on Friday, 18 September, as Minister of State (MoS), Finance, Anurag Thakur invoked the Nehru-Gandhi family, questioning the “FCRA clearance to Nehru's Prime Minister's National Relief Fund in 1948”.
The Congress strongly retaliated and called him a “two-bit chhokra”.
As the debate over PM CARES funds continues, the following report by Poonam Agarwal details how the government refused to share details under RTI of the expenditure of the funds and is being republished in the light of Friday's events in the Parliament.)
We all know that the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief In Emergency Situations Fund or PM CARES Fund was set up on 28th March 2020 to support the fight against COVID-19, and to help those in distress due to the crisis.
Big corporate companies, Public Sector units donated hundreds of crores to PM CARES. Many citizens, people like you and me, also donated our small savings to PM CARES in good faith since the Prime Minister is the chairperson of the fund.
We felt our money would be utilised well. But even so, as citizens or as donors, we would like to how PM CARES is using the money collected.
But information on the PM CARES website is very sketchy. All we are told is that so far Rs 3,100 crore has been allocated for three activities:
- Rs 2,000 crores “for supply of 50,000 ‘Made-in India’ ventilators to Government Hospitals run by the Centre, States and Union Territories”
- Rs 1,000 crores “for care of migrant labourers”
- Rs 100 crores “for vaccine development”
How Was Rs 1,000 crores Spent On Migrant Workers?
Based on this information, Transparency activist Anjali Bharadwaj filed an RTI at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, asking these basic questions:
- Kindly provide the guidelines issued regarding the utilisation of money from PM CARES fund for the care of migrant labourers.
- Kindly provide the amount of PM CARES funds allocated to each State and Union Territory.
- Kindly provide copies of related file notings or correspondence by the Ministry.
Instead of replying, the Ministry of Labour and Employment forwarded the RTI queries to the Prime Minister’s Office or PMO, which is the Head Office of the PM CARES Fund.
In response the PMO refused to provide the information, saying -
“PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005”.
Which in other words means, PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority because it was not established, constituted, owned, controlled or substantially financed by funds provided by Central or State Governments.
Public Authorities Must Share Information Under RTI: CIC
In a similar case, RTI Activist Neeraj Sharma asked the National Informatics Centre or NIC to, “provide certified copies of all communication or instructions received from the PMO for the registration and hosting of the domain pmcares.gov.in.”
Here again, the information was not shared. The same reason was given - that the PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority.
However, back in August 2007, the then Chief Information Commissioner or CIC, Wajahat Habibullah, had clearly stated in one of his orders that if information is held by a public authority, it is obliged to share it with a citizen under the Right To Information Act.
Since the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Informatics Centre and the Ministry of Labour and Employment, are all public authorities, they are bound to share information under RTI as per Habibullah’s order. And yet when it comes to the PM CARES Fund they have simply refused to do so.
PMO, Please Clarify Who Maintains PM CARES Records?
Transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra has also been denied RTI replies linked to the PM CARES Fund multiple times on the same grounds.
To set the record straight on whether the PM CARES Fund is a public authority or not, he filed an RTI with the PMO on 28th May asking a direct question,
Is the PM CARES FUND an independent authority or does the PMO maintain a record of its activities?
When he did not get a reply within 30 days, Batra filed an Appeal on the same RTI on 17th July.
But again, the PMO has not responded. The question is -
- Why can’t the PMO clarify whether it maintains records related to the PM CARES Fund?
- And since the PMO is the Head Office of the PM CARES Fund, are its records maintained by PMO employees or by people directly employed by PM CARES?
The point being - if the PMO does maintain records of the PM CARES Fund, then it is bound to share those records under the RTI Act.
But for some reason, we are getting no answers from the PMO.
Which raises the most pertinent question – Don’t the citizens of India, who have donated money from their small savings, have the right to know how their hard-earned money has been used by the PM CARES Fund?