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Centre should bring clarity on PM CARES fund

Centre should bring clarity on PM CARES fund
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Centre should bring clarity on PM CARES fund
Highlights

Several questions are being asked as to why the country should have a PM-CARES Fund as the need of it was never explained properly to anyone. It is the lack of transparency around the fund that makes one wonder so.

Several questions are being asked as to why the country should have a PM-CARES Fund as the need of it was never explained properly to anyone. It is the lack of transparency around the fund that makes one wonder so. The Prime Minister's Office insists that it does not fall under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI). This has been challenged in the Delhi High Court since. We have two more such funds, for example. Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) and the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

Is there a need for another one, the Opposition has been asking. On March 28, the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or the PM-CARES Fund, was set up to tackle distress situations such as that posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fund receives voluntary contributions from individuals and organisations and does not get any budgetary support. Donations have been made tax-exempt under the Income Tax Act, 1961, and can be counted against a company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligation under the Companies Act, 2013.

It is also exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, and accepts foreign contributions, although the government had earlier refused foreign aid to deal with disasters such as the Kerala floods. The Prime Minister chairs the fund in his official capacity and can nominate three eminent persons in relevant fields to the Board of Trustees. The Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are ex-officio Trustees of the fund. The donation page of the fund carries a personal plea by the Prime Minister that makes it seem the fund is supposed to be exclusively used for the purposes of managing the pandemic. People from all walks of life rose to contribute generously to the new fund. However, it was not possible to estimate exactly how much was being donated to PM-CARES.

Information about funds donated to PM-CARES or money spent from the fund was not widely available in public domain, and it was unclear if the fund will make its donations public since it does not take money from the Consolidated Fund of India, it does not need to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Regardless, IndiaSpend reported on May 20 that at least Rs 9,677.9 crore ($1.27 billion) had been donated to the fund in the first 52 days. It came to this figure by "tabulating press releases on the government's Press Information Bureau website, and from media reports on private companies and individuals donating and/or pledging money to the fund".

The actual corpus would be higher, it said. After weeks of questioning, the PMO said that it was spending Rs 2,000 crore to buy 50,000 ventilators, Rs 1, 000 crore for the welfare of the migrants and Rs 1,000 crore for vaccine development. Were there tenders for the ventilators? No. Is there any audit done? No. the PM-CARES web page is opaque regarding the amount collected, names of donors, expenditure so far or names of beneficiaries. There are several grey areas here and the government needs to answer them.

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