PM-CARES now under official domain: RTI

PM-CARES now under 'gov.in' domain; Centre still says it is not public authority

This could be interpreted as the PMO taking a position that the website for PM-CARES should get the official domain name

From day one, the government is insisting that the PM-CARES is a private entity not controlled by it but a fresh RTI has shown that the controversial fund has been given to the official gov.in domain on a request from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to the National Informatics Centre (NIC).

It has also come to light that the letter from the PMO was sent on March 27 and the approval for use of the official domain reserved for a few government departments and agencies for the PM-CARES came on the same day.

The fund, which has attracted criticism from the Opposition and activists over charges of opaqueness a reluctance to come under the RTI regime citing that it is not a public authority and that is not controlled by the government, had come into being on March 27, the date on which it was registered as well as it got IT exemption.

The latest response came as a culmination of an appeal filed by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) on an RTI query he filed on September 3 this year seeking the date on which the application was made for using the official domain name and its approval as well as the relevant provisions of the 'Guidelines for Allocation of Registration at Third Level under gov.in domain Zone'.

“The pmcares.gov.in has been given to Hon'ble Prime Minister's office (Apex body) with the compliance of 'Guidelines for allocation of registration at the third level under gov.in domain zone dates 23/10/2019' by Internet Governance Division, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology," the NIC said on December 8 in response to the appeal filed by Batra after it initially declined to provide details on the dates on which application and approval were given.

On a query from the NIC, whether it can reveal the letter by the PMO seeking approval for the domain as it treated it as third party information, the PMO had asked the NIC to refer to its response to an RTI query in August in which it had said that PM-CARES was not a public authority. Besides the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Defence Minister, and Finance Minister are the trustees of the PM-CARES Trust.

Under the guidelines, the offices of the President, Vice President, and Prime Minister are eligible for registration under gov.in domain. The guideline also provides for an exception if the Secretary of a concerned organisation has sent a request for a final decision by the Secretary in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The NIC has said that the application for the domain for PM-CARES did not fall under the exception category and was handled as an application from the apex office. This could be interpreted as the PMO taking a position that the website for PM-CARES should get the official domain name.

"How can a Public Charitable Trust that is private in nature be equated with apex body just because it is located in the premises of PMO?" Batra told DH.

On Monday, DH had reported that response to Batra's appeal by the Income Tax Department said that the PM-CARES is a body "owned by, controlled by and established by" the government but cannot come under the RTI regime as it is administered by "private individuals" as trustees and financed by donations from individuals, organisations, and PSUs. 

Also Read | PM-CARES owned by govt but cannot be under RTI, says new RTI response

"This fund is completely financed by donations received from individuals/organisations/CSRs (Corporates)/foreign individuals/foreign organisations/PSUs and not at all financed by the appropriate government and administered by private individuals as trustees, which is a compulsory condition to invoke section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, therefore, PM CARES fund cannot be considered a public authority," the RTI reply dated December 24 by the Office of the Commissioner of Income Tax (Exemption) has said.

The Narendra Modi government has been stone-walling RTI queries on PM-CARES citing that it is not a public authority. The Trust deed dated March 27, publicised recently, said that the PM-CARES was "not created by or under the Constitution of India or by any law made by the Parliament or by any state legislature".

It also went on to say that the Trust is "neither intended to be nor is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any government or any instrumentality of the Government".