By Gyan Pathak
PM Cares Fund is yet within the womb of secrecy. Prime Minister’s Office has been unwilling to reveal its secrets ever since its conception and inception three months ago. It is a back step since it flouts transparency, one of the fundamentals of good governance, considered to be antidote to corruption. The very name smacks petty politics, which does not mean ‘Prime Minister Cares’. It was simply a backronym deliberately created to hoodwink the people to make them believe that ‘Prime Minister Cares’. Its real name is Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund.
The petty politics was exposed even in the beginning when the Modi government had announced that the donations made in this fund by corporate will get the benefit of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but such benefits will not be available to them if they donate in CMs’ Relief Fund. Citizens of this country are made to believe that only PM cares, and no CMs care. However, the fact was, barring the few Union Territories, the state governments were really fighting COVID-19 on the ground, since health is a state subject. At the time when chief ministers of the states were in the need of more funds, the Prime Minister prevented them receiving funds from corporate entities, by making rule that Corporates would not get CSR benefit by donating them.
The very provision that the donation to PM CARES will get CSR benefit is ill conceived idea, because it is not as per the spirit of CSR companies Act. The spirit and objective of the act was to help the society by spending 2 percent of their net profit around the areas where the companies operate. There was no provision in the act that by giving 2 per cent of the profit to the government or government entities in way of donation over and above the liability of taxes, will be equivalent to serving the society where they operate. It’s unfair on the part of the Prime Minister to collect the CSR money for himself, or his government, in the name of helping people, and preventing the direct expenditure to the society under CSR.
Now, under Unlock-2, the centre has brazenly shed its responsibility of containing COVID-19, and onus of the work has been shifted to the State Governments. There is no clear and transparent policy in helping the states to overcome the crisis, what to talk about the equitable support to all the states whether ruled by the BJP and NDA, or the opposition parties. One cannot forget the attitude of the Union government towards opposition ruled states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and so on. States were simply asked to spend from the disaster funds, or chief minister’s relief fund, at a time when their financial position is very bad. After implementation of the GST, the states have little scope to raise revenue. They are by and large dependent on the Union government for timely transfer of funds.
If the PM CARES Fund set up to fight COVID-19 is mired in controversy, it is not without reason. There is a clear lack of transparency. The Fund was set up on March 27, just two day after the countrywide general lockdown. The next day PM appealed to donate in this fund, and within a week about 65 billion rupees were reportedly collected. The total collection in now believed to have exceeded 100 billion rupees. Due to lack of transparency, the exact figure of collection and expenditure and their details are not known. Had the prime minister invited donation under PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF), it would have been transparent and everybody would have known the details. Moreover, the PM CARES Fund will not be audited by the official auditor CAG of the government of India. It would be audited by some private auditor to the liking of the PM.
It is still a mystery, and there is no valid official reason as to why this new fund was created when there was already one called PMNRF. The obvious reason was that the PM does not want the rigorous scrutiny of the newly created fund as is done in the case of PMNRF. One of the suggestion given to the government was that the government should transfer the fund collected through PM CARES to the PMNRF, but the suggestion fell into deaf years.
It had been thought by the people that the money collected through PM CARES will be spent in right earnest, there will be need. However, nobody knows how much is spent and in which emergencies during the last three months of creation of this fund and the period of lockdown. About three hundred of migrant workers were died during the crisis while returning their home, without even food and transport. PM did not announce any assistance even in such emergency, and we do not know how much assistance was given to the millions of workers returning home. Even PM CARES website does not contain any information about collection and expenditure. Petitions filed under RTI were not answered on the ground that PM CARES does not fall under RTI. The question is, if PM and PMO is not public authority then who is? It seems, people will have to file cases in the courts to know about this fund.
PMO is wrong is saying that PM Cares is a private trust and not a public authority, since PM is collecting money and his office is handling the money. Moreover, three cabinet ministers of his governments are members. All of them are there in the fund in their capacity of a public authority. The question is why they want it to be secret fund? Why after great public pressure PMO has recently revealed only this much that they were spending 20 billion rupees in purchasing 50,000 ventilators, 10 billion on welfare of migrants, and one billion on vaccine development? Why the norms of tendering have been violated along with the transparency of functioning? Mr Modi has this in his habit. We have seen this even during demonetization, when transparency norms were violated in printing currency notes and replacing ATMs and their parts etc. The question is who gets benefit in secrecy and how? (IPA Service)