Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund (PM CARES Fund), is not a Government of India fund and the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India, the Delhi High Court was informed through an affidavit filed by Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, an Under Secretary at the PMO. Srivastava also functions in the PM CARES trust on an honorary basis.
The affidavit was filed in response to a petition seeking a direction to declare the PM CARES Fund a 'State' under the Constitution in order to ensure transparency in its functioning.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Amit Bansal was hearing a petition filed by Samyak Gangwal who claims that the PM CARES Fund is a 'State' as it was formed by the Prime Minister on 27 March last year, to provide assistance to Indians in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, Gangwal’s council told the high court that if the PM CARES Fund is indeed not 'State' under the Constitution, then the usage of the domain name 'gov', state emblem, the Prime Minister's photograph, etc, has to be stopped.
‘Trust Functions With Transparency’: PMO
The affidavit filed by Srivastava in the court said, “To ensure transparency, the audited report is put on the official website of the trust along with the details of utilisation of funds received by the trust.”
“I state that when the petitioner is claiming to be a public-spirited person and seeking to pray for various reliefs only for transparency, it does not matter whether PM Cares is a 'State' within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India,” the affidavit added, PTI reported.
Further, the affidavit claimed that “Irrespective of whether the trust is a ‘State' or other authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution or whether it is a 'public authority' within the meaning of provisions of the Right to Information Act (RTI), it is not permissible to disclose third party information.”
Srivastava also claimed that the trust functions with transparency, while its funds are audited by an auditor, who is a chartered accountant from the panel set by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
All donations received by the trust are received either via online payments, cheques or Demand Drafts, he added.
Moreover, Srivastava stressed, the amount received is audited and the audited report along with the expenditure of the trust fund is displayed on the website, PTI reported.
Srivastava further asserted that the trust functions in larger public interest like any other charitable trust, and on the principles of transparency and public good.
Therefore, it cannot have any objection in uploading all its resolutions on its website to ensure transparency.
What the Petition Contends
The petition said that the trustees of the fund are the prime minister, defence minister, home minister and the finance minister themselves.
Moreover, the plea adds that after the fund was formed, the union government represented through its high government functionaries that the fund was set up and operated by the Government of India.
The plea has sought a direction for regular auditing of the PM CARES website and disclosure of the details of donations received by it, in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
Furthermore, Gangwal has sought to direct the government to broadcast that the PM CARES Fund is not a fund of the Government of India and to restrain PM CARES from using 'Prime Minister of India', 'Prime Minister', or ‘PM’ in its name, on its website, trust deed and other official or unofficial communications and advertisements, PTI reported.
The matter has been listed for hearing on 27 September.
(With inputs from PTI.)