PMNRF Gets Unused Electoral Bond Funds, So Why Does It Escape RTI?

Why Prime Minister National Relief Fund doesn’t come under RTI when it is getting not encashed electoral bonds fund?

Published11 Jun 2020, 09:35 AM IST
India
3 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Should the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) be under public scrutiny? Should it be answerable to the public, via the Right to Information (RTI) Act?

While your answer may be an unequivocal yes, the fact is that PMNRF does not come under the ambit of the RTI Act. Here is why:

The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund website states that, “The PMNRF accepts only voluntary contributions by individuals and institutions. Contributions flowing out of budgetary sources of government or from the balance sheets of public sector undertakings (PSUs) are not accepted.”

It also states, “The PMNRF fund is recognised as a Trust under the Income Tax Act and the same is managed by the prime minister or multiple delegates for national causes. Disbursements are made with the approval of the prime minister.”

And since it is a trust, the PMNRF does not fall under RTI.

But then, why is it accepting government-controlled money?

The Quint found that PMNRF gets the money that accumulates from non-encashed electoral bonds. Just to remind you, electoral bonds are bought by political donors from the State Bank of India (SBI) and given to political parties as donations.

Replying to an RTI query, the SBI says it has given over Rs 20 crore to the PMNRF, as amount gathered from non-encashed electoral bonds. Nothing wrong in that. In fact, it is in accordance with the Finance Ministry’s notification about Electoral Bonds issued in January 2018.

But, here is the point.

This Rs 20 crore is clearly “government-controlled money”. And, legal experts say that when the PMNRF accepts government-controlled money, it acquires the character of a 'public authority' and should, thus, come under the RTI Act.”

But the fact is, in the past, the PMNRF has repeatedly refused to reply to RTI applicants.

In fact, back in 2007, the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah had this to say about the PMNRF:

“We appreciate that the fund is a discretionary fund with the Prime Minister. But since the information is held by the PMO as the public authority, they are obliged to make it accessible to a citizen under the RTI Act.”

So, why is the PMNRF still refusing to share information under RTI. The Quint reached out to Habibullah for a comment. He said:

“The CIC’s decision stands unchallenged and is, therefore, now the law. And, if the PMNRF is still not disclosing the information under RTI, then they are in the violation of the law.”

Transparency activist Lokesh Batra argues, “Why not use the money gathered from non-encashed electoral bonds to pay for the printing of the bonds? It should be noted that the SBI has sent the government a huge bill of nearly Rs 5.3 crore for the selling and printing of 6.6 lakh electoral bonds.”

To sum up, here are some key questions:

  • Why is PMNRF accepting money accumulated from non-encashed electoral bonds?
  • Isn’t PMNRF contradicting its stand by accepting money from non-encashed electoral bonds, and still claiming to be a Private Trust?
  • Shouldn’t PMNRF come under RTI, to maintain transparency?

We have written to the Prime Minister’s Office, seeking answers to these queries. The article will be updated when we receive a reply.

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