Ayushman Ojha | Ground Report
A public interest litigation (PIL) petition by Surender Singh Hooda has been moved before the Delhi High Court seeking greater transparency in the PM CARES FUND by bringing it under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Earlier an RTI was filed on April 1 by Harsha Kandukuri, a student of the Azim Premji University, Bangalore regarding this fund. In its reply the Prime Minister Office(PMO) stated that the fund is not a ‘public authority’ under section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, and therefore it won’t be able to divulge information sought in the application.
The PM CARES Fund was created on 28 March 2020 with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and is a public charitable trust. At present the total corpus of the fund stands ar approximately ₹10,000 Crore. Hon’ble Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance, Government of India are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
As per Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted: by or under the Constitution; by any other law made by Parliament; by any other law made by State Legislature; by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.
Assessing the above mentioned information, here are the reasons why PM CARED FUND should be under RTI:
Since PM CARES conforms to being a “public account” and as vast sums of money have been collected manifestly at the behest of the government of India, allowing the CAG to audit it will be a step in the direction of transparency and instil public confidence in the Fund.
More than Rs. 3,800 crores were already available under the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund as of June, so it isn’t clear why it was necessary to create another fund at the central level. This arises the situation for an audit.
Under Article 266(2) of the Constitution, “public moneys received by or on behalf of the Government of India”, which is not on account ofl revenue from taxes, duties, repayment ofloans and the like should be credited to the Public Account of India. Connecting the dotes here with another section, Section 13(b) of the CAG Act, it is the duty of the CAG to audit “all transactions” of the Union relating to public accounts.
PM CARES uses the State Emblem of India (an adaptation of the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath) in a manner that creates the impression that it is related to the government. The use of this symbol is governed by the State Emblem of India Act and Rules, and is a prohibited offence unless permitted by the Central government. This way anyone could collect funds and not get into the ambit of RTI.
Any interpretation that protects PM CARES from the scrutiny of CAG and from the ambit of RTI can be outweighed by concerns of accountability and transparency and reassurance that the funds that were even collected from the salaries of the government employees is far from any misappropriations.