By Arun Srivastava
Just a day after the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced a Rs 20 lakh crore special economic package, the question on utility and future role of PM Cares Fund surfaced in the public domain in a significant manner.
Though barely a week back the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a plea seeking quashing of the decision to set up the PM CARES Fund, where people can donate money, to deal with the situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and described the PIL as “misconceived”, today the people have once again started seeking the facts about the motive of setting the fund.
The special economic package was announced to combat the situation that has arisen due to the outbreak of the dreaded disease corona. While making the announcement Modi did not mention a word about the role of the fund in fighting the crisis. The special economic package will use the government fund, he tax payers’ money. In this backdrop it was quite imperative that people ought to know how the government intends to use the PMC Fund.
The Supreme Court has put the PMCF in an enviable situation where nobody can force the Modi government to come out with any sort of clarification. This verdict of the apex court puts the PMCF out of orbit of RTI Act and also beyond the ambit of audit by CAG.
If the sources are to be relied the PMCF has already received funds in billions. It is said that the PMO and the BJP leaders are coercing the CPSEs to give the entire portion of their CSR fund to PMCF. The functioning of the PMC Fund confined within four iron walls goes against the basic political tenet of Modi, who while ascending to the throne had promised for complete transparency in his working. It is really inexplicable why Modi has been resorting to the practice of not letting any information about it to the outside world.
He has already been facing criticism for creating a new coronavirus relief fund when about $500m was lying unspent in PM National Relief Fund, the apex organisation floated to meet such exigencies. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs on March 30 sent “AN APPEAL” to top companies, saying donations would be counted under CSR obligations. It urged companies that had already met obligations to go “over and above” and use donations to the new fund to offset future CSR obligations. Cinema actors, cricketers and prominent businessmen have pledged to support Modi’s fund. Modi has celebrated on Twitter as donations have flown in from companies including oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries, backed by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.
The donors are virtually who’s who. Top businesses and celebrities have donated millions of dollars in new donations. Name any organisation or top individual you will find their name prominently featuring in the list of the donors. In the past no government irrespective of the fact whether it was smeared as corrupt, used its political clout and authority to collect funds for the PMNRF. This time no doubt it is exception.
Congress party has alleged that the new fund lacks transparency, and it has also questioned why it was created and why it could not be merged with the older fund, the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, which was set up in 1948 and has a balance of 38 billion rupees ($498.6m). Reluctance to let the people know of the modus operandi of the new fund has given rise to many ill-conceived notions. Some aid groups are concerned that the new, high-profile fund might divert resources away from grassroots humanitarian efforts.
“Why did they need to create the PM CARES fund? Societal consideration may be a priority for business houses but sometimes it becomes a race to be in good books,” said Namita Gopal, a Mumbai-based consultant specialising in corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is quite revealing that corporate houses are utilising their CSR funds through this route which is raising concerns that other non profits may not get funds in the year ahead.
Any contribution made to the PM CARES Fund before 30 June would qualify for a tax deduction under section 80G of The Income-tax Act, 1961. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs announced that donations to the PM CARES fund would be counted as part of the statutory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligation of the companies, with additional CSR being offset in subsequent years. Donations made to the state governments’ initiatives such as the Chief Minister’s Funds do not qualify for the CSR obligation.
Modi sycophants have been using all kinds of means to collect money. After the resident doctors’ association of AIIMS protested against a plan to deduct one day’s salary from staff to donate to PM CARES the authorities rejected the doctors’ complaint and said anyone who did not want to contribute to the fund’s “noble cause” would have to formally opt-out.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has said: “The PM Cares Fund has received huge contributions from PSUs (Public Sector Undertakings) and major public utilities like the Railways. It’s important that PM ensures the fund is audited and that the record of the money received and spent is available to the public”. The fund will not be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
The argument to justify the stand has been most ridiculous “Since the fund is based on donations of individuals and organisations, we have no right to audit the charitable organisation,” In fact almost all the donations are audited. This is the practice of the land. In fact the PIL has pointed out to the apex court; “Impugned trust has not either been created by Parliament/state legislator within Article 267. It is neither passed by Parliament nor approved by the President of India. There is no ordinance/gazette notification in this regard”.
The Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh has asked the Centre to return Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds deposited by Chhattisgarh’s mining projects and industrial units in Prime Minister CARES Fund saying the funds are meant for the welfare of people living around project areas. Without mentioning the amount deposited by the companies in PMCF, Baghel wrote, “I request you to kindly transfer this amount to the state. We would ensure that it is utilised only in districts affected by Covid-19.” Baghel has also made public the fund he received to fight corona. On Tuesday, Baghel had demanded a special package worth Rs 30,000 crore and seven exemptions from the current lockdown conditions.
Baghel’s move led many users to take to Twitter questioning the opacity being maintained in the case of PM CARES Fund. He also tweeted; “If you are expressing so much trust in the government in times of crisis, then it is also my duty to maintain transparency.”Hours before the PM’s video conference kicked off, Baghel said in a series of tweets, “I am presenting the account of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund among you all. I would like to mention that from March 24 to May 7, the total amount of Rs 56 crore 4 lakh 38 thousand 815 have been received from various donors in the fund,” he tweeted in Hindi.
The only info that the Centre has furnished about the fund is it would be audited by one or more qualified independent auditors who will be appointed by the trustees. But this in no way steer clears the allegation that it lacks transparency. People have every right to suspect the integrity of these independent auditors. (IPA Service)