Since the announcement for the creation of PM CARES two things have come in abundance, funds and criticisms. So, is the fund for the good of the nation or the netas? Read on to find out.

PM Modi announced the creation of a new fund, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund or PM-CARES Fund on March 28th. Since this announcement money has poured in from around the nation. However, in addition to money, criticisms of the fund have also been pouring in.

The main criticism directed at this fund was a question on its existence and need. The critiques say that PMNRF or Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, from whom PM Cares borrows its structure, should have been used. But before diving deeper, let us know the two funds.

What is PM-Cares Fund?

The fund was created specifically for the current pandemic. The government stated that due to the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic, the fund has been created exclusively to fight this outbreak. Officially the fund ‘is to be used for combating, containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic like situations in the future.’

Barely a week after the fund was set up, donations pledged to it have crossed over Rs 6,500 crore more than three times its counterpart PMNRF got in the years 2014-15 and 2018-19. Similar to PMNRF, PM Cares is a 100% donation based fund. In addition to this donations to the fund by corporates will be exempted under the Income Tax, 1961 and are also counted as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure. The officials further stated that to spend from the Consolidated Fund of India, the Parliament’s approval was required while a donation-based fund did not have any such legislative concerns.

According to the PM Cares fund website, “the Prime Minister is the ex-officio (by virtue of one’s position or status) Chairman of the Fund while the Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance 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 (work undertaken voluntarily and without payment) capacity.”

PMNRF: The Case of the CounterpartT

he Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or PMNRF was established on January 1948 by the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. The fund was established to help the people who were victims of mass migration and violence post-independence. Through the passage of time the fund evolved to help the victims of riots, floods, tsunamis, naxal attacks and the fund is also used to sponsor medical treatment of the needy. The fund was used extensively to provide support for victims of 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Uttarakhand floods 2013, cyclone in Kerala and Lakshadweep, 2014 violence in Assam, Madhya Pradesh explosion 2015, Tamil Nadu floods 2015 etc.

The PMNRF, before 1985 was a trust consisting of the following people in its board:

  1. Prime Minister
  2. Deputy Prime Minister
  3. President of the Indian National Congress
  4. Finance Minister
  5. A representative of the Tata Trustees
  6. A member of industry and commerce, as decided by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

However, after the year 1985, this structure of the fund was changed by the Rajiv Gandhi government. The fund has since been functioning under the discretion and directions of the prime minister. According to the information provided by the fund, the prime minister is the secretary of the fund, assisted by a joint-secretary and an officer of the rank of director, all on an honorary basis. In short the PM has sole discretion over its use.

The Concerns

Several people including political parties like the Indian National Congress, Shiv Sena, and Trinamool Congress. Etc. have raised concerns related to this fund. The first concern is the need for a new fund when one, i.e. PMNRF, already exists. To this concern the government officials stated that PM Cares was established exclusively for fighting the pandemic due to its magnitude and PMNRF fund has not been closed but still remains very much functional.

Secondly, the auditing of the fund by independent auditors and not the CAG raised many eyebrows. However, both PMNRF as well as PM CARES are donation based funds and hence do not qualify for CAG auditing. Further the government has still not made the charter and other information like collection and expenditure of the fund public. In addition to this it is a valid point that the central government should have encouraged donations to state funds. As many states governments are seeing their revenue incomes dry up due to low consumption of oil as well as liquor and are hence in dire need of funds.

Various questions on the legality of the fund were also raised. However they were put to rest after the Supreme Court of India dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Manohar Lal Sharma for questioning the legality of the constitution of PM CARES Fund for COVID-19.

Abhinandan Kaul, a student of St. Stephen’s College, says, ”Public participation is the key to mitigate issues facing our nation and society. PM Cares puts this very fundamental idea in action by enabling micro-donations allowing not only prominent celebrities and businessmen but also ordinary people of the country to contribute with small amounts of money too as a result of which more than 40 crore Indians have been able to send in donations. Hence in my opinion, PM cares is a very well-conceived idea for Indians to come together and fight against Covid-19!”
Akshat Singh Rathore, a student of Shri Venkateshwara College, says, “Even though I think that the government is doing commendable work battling this virus. But, the PM CARES is shady in many terms. If the government is taking donations from us then we as citizens have a right to know as to where our money goes. And if they are all clean then this shouldn’t be a problem.”
The effectiveness of this fund will come to light in coming days. But it is rather astounding that all of India came together to fight this global pandemic. The government has to answer many concerns related to fund and till then all of the nation should support their respective governments and authorities to be victorious in the battle against this wretched virus.

Featured Image Credits: PM Cares

Aniket Singh Chauhan

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