This article is written by Muskan Jain, a 1st year law student of Amity University, Chhattisgarh.
What is PM Care Fund?
The PM Care Fund (i.e. Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund) was created on 28 March 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The Prime minister is the chairman of the trust and the trustees include the Defence minister, Home and finance Ministers. The fund will be used for combating, containment and relief efforts against the corona virus outbreak and similar pandemic like situation in the future.
Objectives of PM Care Fund
- 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 up gradation of healthcare or pharmaceutical facilities, other necessary infrastructure, funding relevant research or any other type of support.
- To render financial assistance, provide grants of payment 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, which is not inconsistent with the above objects.
PIL filed against PM Care Fund
A few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of the fund on his twitter account on March 28, a law student from Bangalore had filed an RTI application in April, seeking details about the constitution of PM Care Fund. The applicant had asked for copies of the Fund’s trust deed and all government orders related to its creation and functioning. His concern was “When we already have the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)”, having another fund did not make sense.
Another RTI plea filed on April 24 by Vikrant Tongad, founder of social action for forest & environment, he filed an appeal in the matter claiming the information sought by him in public interest. He also sought a copy of minutes of the meetings relating to lockdown, details of the strategy for COVID-19 by the centre, testing kits ordered by the government and their state-wise distribution data.
Another RTI application was filed by Advocate Abhay Gupta on April 1st 2020 asking for details for the PM Care Fund, including the total amount deposited in the fund account in the last month & till date, PAN details given to open the PM Cares account, Details of amount spend in PM Care Fund till date.
Supreme Court Judgment
The Supreme Court dismisses a plea challenging the constitutionality of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency situation Fund (PM- Care) being violative of various provisions of the constitution of India. The case was heard by the bench comprising of Chief Justice S A Bobde, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar observed that the petition filed by the petitioner is a misconceived petition and required its outright dismissal.
The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the PM CARES Fund doesn’t comes under the scope of “public authority” under the RTI Act, in response to RTI application filed seeking details on the fund and detail regarding the fund will not be claimed by the citizens under the Act. By simply ruling that it is not public authority the government has constructed walls of secrecy around it.
“PM CARE Fund is not a public Authority under the Ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of the PM CARES Fund may be seen on the website- pmcares.gov.in.” stated the response to the RTI application.
What is ‘public authority’ under RTI?
According to provision of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act a “public authority” is defined as Any authority or body or instituted of self-government established or constituted-
- by or under the constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by the state legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.
According to the RTI Act, only such information which is held by or under the control of any public authority can be accessed by the general public through RTI. The definition of ‘public authority’ also includes bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government and non-government organizations substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.
After the plea dismiss on the basis that the PM CARE fund is not a public authority and it is not controlled by the government. Another question raised by the applicant that if it is not controlled by the government then who is controlling it? It is not clear if the PM CARES Fund can be subjected to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and it remained as a question mark.