'PM-CARES owned by govt but cannot be under RTI'

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

Ministry of Corporate Affairs had also said that PM-CARES is government-owned

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: PTI

The controversial PM-CARES Fund 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, the Centre has said in an RTI response.

The response from the Office of the Commissioner of Income Tax (Exemption) to transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) contradicts the Centre's own claim that the ‘Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund' (PM-CARES Fund) is a private body.

Interestingly, an office memorandum dated March 27, 2020, by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had said that the "Government of India has set up" the PM-CARES with the "primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation such as that posed by Covid-19 pandemic".

The Income Tax office's response came in an appeal filed by Batra after he did not receive certain information he sought under the RTI Act, 2005.

"This fund is completely financed by donations received from individuals/organisations/CSRs (Corporate Social Responsibility)/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 has said.

However, the deed of the PM Cares Trust made public earlier this month has said that it 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".

The Opposition and transparency activists had found faults with the continuous rejection of information requests on PM-CARES by the Centre saying that it is not a "public authority".

Batra argued that PSUs are very much under RTI and donations under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scheme by the private sector will come under the transparency regime as they declare the details to the Ministry.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted, "Fraud compounded! Fund set up via govt notification but not answerable to RTI. Public sector, armed forces, government employees and MPs were forced to contribute thousands of crores to this non-transparent, non-auditable fund. Where is this money?" 

Sharing a copy of the receipt of PM-CARES, Batra told DH that it is noteworthy that it is not the chairman of the 'Public Charitable trust' that is private in nature thanking the donor but the Prime Minister expressing the gratitude to the donor.

The receipt says, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi expresses his gratitude for the thoughtful and compassionate gesture on your part. The valuable contribution will greatly help India in fighting distress situations like Covid-19."