Of late several actions of the union government have come to light. These are: (1) Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image with the message: “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas; Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas” appearing as footer on all official emails from the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court swiftly directed the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to delete Modi’s image and the message from its email footers. It ensured that the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive was not compromised.
(2) Similar imprint of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image on all Covid vaccine certificates. Did Modi do the R&D for indigenous production of Covishield and Covaxin vaccines? The credit is entirely that of our scientists/Department of Biotechnology.
(3) An affidavit dated 23.09.2021 in Delhi High Court by an Under Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) states that the PM CARES Fund is not a Government of India fund; that the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India; and that it is outside the ambit of Right to Information (RTI). The petitioner, Samayak Gangwal, filed a writ petition challenging the PMO's order rejecting his RTI application stating that PM CARES was not a "public authority" within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. (Source: The HANS India 28.09.2021). The case is in progress.
What is PM CARES Fund?
The website https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/about-pm-cares-fund/ reads: “Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected, a public charitable trust under the name of `Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund)’ has been set up.”
If one clicks ‘Donate Online’ icon, the following message appears with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph on the top screen: “PM-CARES fund is aimed at strengthening the fight against Covid-19. It will further availability of quality treatment and encourage research on ways to beat Coronavirus. I urge people from all walks of life to contribute to PM-CARES. Together let’s solve the challenges of the present and protect the future.”
Then it guides prospective donor to the various modes of Domestic and Foreign Donations. It also stipulates “Contributions once processed cannot be cancelled or refunded.”
• To undertake and support relief or assistance of any kind relating to a public health emergency or any other kind of emergency, calamity or distress, either man-made or natural, including the creation or upgradation of healthcare or pharmaceutical facilities, other necessary infrastructure, funding relevant research or any other type of support.
• To render financial assistance, provide grants of payments of money or take such other steps as may be deemed necessary by the Board of Trustees to the affected population.
• To undertake any other activity that is not inconsistent with the above Objectives.
PM CARES Trust
• PM CARES Fund was registered as a Public Charitable Trust under the Registration Act 1908 at New Delhi on 27th March, 2020.
• Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Finance, Government of India, are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
• The Chairperson of the Board of Trustees (Prime Minister) shall have the power to nominate three trustees to the Board of Trustees who shall be eminent persons in the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy.
• Any person appointed a Trustee shall act in a pro bono capacity.
Name of Donee: Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund
Address: Under Secretary (Funds), PMO, South Block, New Delhi, Pin -110011
• The Fund is administered on an honorary basis by a Joint Secretary (Administration) in the PMO as Secretary to the Fund. He/she is assisted on an honorary basis by an Officer of the rank of Director/Deputy Secretary (Administration) in the PMO which provides such administrative and secretarial support to the Trustees for the management and administration of the Trust, as may be required by the above-mentioned Trustees.
• The Head of the Fund is Prime Minister’s Office, South Block, New Delhi.
• The fund consists entirely of voluntary contributions from individuals/organizations and does not get any budgetary support. The fund will be utilised in meeting the objectives as stated above.
• Donations to PM CARES Fund would qualify for 80G benefits for 100% exemption under the Income Tax Act, 1961. Donations to PM CARES Fund will also qualify to be counted as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013.
• PM CARES Fund has also got exemption under the FCRA and a separate account for receiving foreign donations has been opened. This enables PM CARES Fund to accept donations and contributions from individuals and organizations based in foreign countries.
• The Fund is also exempted from paying Income Tax as per Section 10 (23)(c) of Income Tax Act, 1961. Any contribution made to the PM CARES Fund by any company or PSU shall quality as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure as provided under the Companies Act, 2013.
• The Trustees of the PM CARES have powers to formulate rules/criteria for carrying out any of the objectives of the Trust.
• During 2019-20 (from 27th to 31st March, 2020), an amount of Rs. 3,076.62 crore has been collected under PM CARES Fund.
• The Fund is audited by an independent auditor M/s SARC & Associates, Chartered Accountants, New Delhi (appointed for three years in April 2020).
• According to link https://www.taxwink.com/blog/pan-of-pmcares-fund, donations to PM CARES Fund can be made by accessing PM CARES Fund under the Menu option in www.pmindia.gov.in
A close look at the above information gives rise to the following questions on the lines of Emperor’s New Clothes:
• If PM CARES is not a government fund:
1. Whose baby is it then?
2. Why is the prefix PM being used?
3. Why then is the Prime Minister its ex-officio Chairman and the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Finance are ex-officio Trustees?
4. Why is it given special preference to get IT, FCRA and RTI exemptions when so many bona fide NGOs are running from pillar to post to get their FCRA accounts renewed?
5. If it is not a government fund, how is it using the domain name `gov’ and flaunting the Prime Minister’s face, his message, the President, the two Houses, GOI Web Directory and MyGov on its website https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/about-pm-cares-fund?
6. What was the need for a separate PM CARES Fund? The objectives of the Fund could easily have been met by the existing Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). The resources of PMNRF are utilized primarily to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc. and to the victims of the major accidents and riots, to partially defray the expenses for medical treatment like heart surgeries, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment and acid attack etc. The Fund consists entirely of public contributions and does not get any budgetary support. Disbursements are made with the approval of the Prime Minister. PMNRF operates from the Prime Minister’s Office, South Block, New Delhi-110011 just as PM CARES does.
“The fact is that we don’t know, and may never find out, just how much money has been collected in this fund; and where, how and when it will be used.” (Times of India, 23.09.2021).