By Sushil Kutty
So, we are all less than average in the brains department, with our right to information curtailed to boot. The Union Government collects money on our behalf, for our stated welfare, from umpteens of sources, including government conduits, departments, ministries, government agencies. It hides as it seeks and then it plays ‘hide ‘n seek’ by refusing to divulge the sources and amounts of the money collected!
What’s the charade here? Elaborate, too. The Union Government and the Prime Minister’s Office will not enlighten citizens or courts about some of the secret elements behind the Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund (PM-Cares Fund). If it’s not a fund of the Union Government, why’s it called ‘PM Cares Fund’, and on whose suggestion was it so-named?
Again, does the Prime Minister care, or not, that such big amounts are involved, and that, too, to all purposes, unaccounted for? The Union Government and the PMO should stop playing games. Transparency and accountability cannot be sacrificed at the altar of some unstated ideal, some unspoken requirement. It beats logic why ‘PM Cares Fund’ is not “government” when the Prime Minister is ex-officio chairman of the Fund, and three of his ministers are “trustees”.
The petitioner wanted the Delhi high court to declare ‘PM Cares Fund’ as “State” and designate it “public authority” as per the RTI Act. ‘PM-Cares Fund’ was set up in March 2020 to raise funds to help fight and beat Covid-19. And it’s been receiving tonnes of money via donations. But there’s zilch transparency, drawing criticism from all corners and comers.
The excuse is that the fund is not ‘Public Authority’ under the RTI Act. All RTI applications are rejected using this same tactic/excuse – so uncannily Modi-like that it begs the question: Does it give vicarious pleasure or a sense of ultimate power over everything “PM” surveys? PM-Cares Fund fits the definitions of both “public authority” and “State”, yet there’s reluctance to declare it so!
A petition filed in Supreme Court earlier this year challenged the fund’s legality while alleging that “oceans of money” were being diverted to it on a daily basis from government conduits in the name of “contributions”. Actually, PM Cares Fund is like an octopus except that this octopus has countless tentacles. It sucks money out of even government-controlled funds like the ‘Assistance related to Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster’, which is exclusively for victims of the ‘Bhopal Gas Tragedy’.
The fact is, the coffers of ‘PM Cares Fund’ are “bottomless” with “unimaginable and unfathomable amounts of public money” pumped into them “unabated”. The exact amounts of the ‘moneys’ received may never be known, or divulged, because of the rule of no transparency and because RTI doesn’t work with ‘PM Cares Fund’.
In fact, a clutch of “young lawyers” had sought from the apex court transparency and accountability in matters ‘PM Cares Fund’. “The ideals of democracy can never be realised, unless there is transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the affairs of governance. The citizen’s right to information…,” the lawyers noted in the petition.
But nothing worked. ‘PM-Cares Fund’ continues to get ‘moneys’ from government entities. In its reply to the high court, the Modi Government informed that ‘PM Cares Fund’ was a “charitable trust” and that the fund had nothing to do with the Constitution or Parliament or state legislature. The fact is, there is no way to check if it is “voluntary donations from individuals and institutions” as claimed by the Government.
The Government’s fig leaf is that it’s not at “liberty to disclose any third party information” and that the donations do not go into the Consolidated Fund of India! As for “transparency”, the Government says, the ‘moneys’ in the Fund are audited by a CA approved by the CAG! And details of the utilisation of the ‘moneys’ are uploaded to the ‘PM-Cares Fund’ website regularly.
The Delhi high court will hear the case again on September 27. Will it then help unravel the mystery of how “fathomless oceans of money have secretively been poured into the PM Cares Fund, starting from February 4, 2020, even prior to the official announcement/declaration of the creation of the Fund, on March 28, 2020”?
Not likely. The ‘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! That’s all there is to know. Doesn’t matter if the Prime Minister’s photograph is on all fund related papers? That is to remind everyone that the PM Cares! (IPA Service)