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Did you know that the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund had the President of Congress party in its managing committee

In fact, sometime in the year 1985, the then Managing Committee of the Fund entrusted the entire management of the said fund to the Prime Minister. The PM was conferred with sole discretion to appoint a "Secretary of the fund" on his behalf, upon whom amongst other things, the authority to operate the bank accounts of the fund was also delegated

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the PM CARES Fund to fight the Wuhan Coronavirus, a lot has been discussed about the similarities and differences between PM CARES Fund and PMNRF. The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established in the year 1948. Initially, the purpose of the fund was to provide assistance to displaced people from Pakistan during and right after the partition of India. The resources of the PMNRF are now 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. Assistance from PMNRF is also rendered, 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. The corpus of the fund is invested in various forms with scheduled commercial banks and other agencies. Disbursements are made with the approval of the Prime Minister.

It is pertinent to note that the PMNRF is not constituted by the parliament.

In the wake of the Partition of India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said that while the government of India is utilising its funds to ensure that the displaced can re-settle and re-start their lives, it was not enough and helping those displaced needed a collective effort of the nation. To that end, a national fund was set up that could be used to help people suffering from any disaster but especially, was to be used to help the refugees from Pakistan post-partition.

It is thus that PMNRF was constituted day the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. However, what is little known is that when it was constituted, the managing committee had included the President of the Congress party specifically.

When the Fund was constituent, the following people were included in the managing committee of the PMNRF.

i) The Prime Minister.
ii) The President of the India National Congress party.
iii) The Deputy Prime Minister.
iv) The Finance Minister.
v) A representative of Tata Trustees.
vi) A representative of Industry & Commerce to be chosen by FICCI.

1948 Notification announcing formation of PMNRF by PM Jawaharlal Nehru

In the notification, it was said that more members would be added to the committee later on.

In fact, it was only sometime in the year 1985, the then Managing Committee of the Fund entrusted the entire management of the said fund to the Prime Minister. The PM was conferred with sole discretion to appoint a “Secretary of the fund” on his behalf, upon whom amongst other things, the authority to operate the bank accounts of the fund was also delegated. It is pertinent to note that this decision was taken when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was in-charge of the fund.

Interestingly, the PMNRF is far less transparent than the PM CARES since after PMNRF was deemed a trust, it has functioned without a trust deed. Essentially, giving unbridled power to the Prime Minister with zero accountability. Till date, nobody knows what the guidelines that govern the PMNRF are.

In the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, Prime Minister Modi launched PM CARES Fund where he invited public contribution to fight the pandemic. The PM CARES Fund is an emergency fund that was set up to provide relief to those affected by the Wuhan Coronavirus. The PM CARES, or the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund has been set up as a public charitable trust. The Prime Minister is the chairman of this trust and its members include Defence Minister, Home Minister And Finance Minister. 

As soon as it was launched, the fund received a thumping reception with thousands of people donating to it, including industrialists, Bollywood stars and the average folk. However, one question that was repeatedly raised as to why a PM CARES Fund was created instead of simply using the PMNRF or even renaming the PMNRF to PM CARES.

Read: No, India is not accepting ‘foreign aid’ to fight Coronavirus pandemic: Debunking misinformation​ spread​ by Suhasini Haider and Shashi Tharoor

Business Standard noted in an article that PM CARES Fund is far more democratic than the PMNRF.

It says:

Under PMNRF, the criterion for disbursement of money and selection of beneficiaries is purely at the ‘discretion of the PM and in accordance with the PM’s directions.’ Modi’s PM CARES now delegates that power of deliberation and decision making to three other ministers of the government, who handle some of the most crucial portfolios. Apart from Modi who will chair the trust, it also has his top three ministers – Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as members. As chairman of the PM CARES trust, Modi still has the responsibility of sanctioning and approving his ministers’ recommendations; but unlike PMNRF he is not the proverbial ‘judge, jury and executioner.’ By the looks of it, Modi seems to have diluted the powers of his own office over the crucial fund with the creation of PM CARES. 

The report also summarised the differences between the PM CARES Fund and the PMNRF.

Difference between PM CARES Fund and PMNRF (By Business Standard)

It thus suffices to say that the PM CARES Fund is far more adequate and transparent than the PMNRF is even though the latter has come to the rescue of several citizens as well.

It is also now reported that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund), which is a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, will have up to 13 eminent experts to undertake relief or assistance of any kind relating to a public health emergency including the creation and up-gradation of healthcare facilities. Most importantly, the eminent experts will be working pro bono.

There is also a provision to set up an advisory board of not more than 10 persons — selected by the trustees from among the medical practitioners, healthcare professionals, academicians, economists and lawyers.

Read: PM CARES fund to have up to 13 eminent experts to undertake relief and assistance during emergencies: Report

“The responsibility of the trustees in PM-CARES has been defined, unlike in the Prime Minister National Relief Fund (PMNRF). The latter has no provision of an advisory board. PMNRF has the PM, deputy PM, finance minister, Congress president and a representative of the Tata Trust and industry representative chosen by FICCI, as members of the trust,” a senior official speaking to Economic Times revealed.

A senior BJP functionary said Congress was objecting to PM-CARES because the Congress president had not found a place in it unlike in the PMNRF. “The idea is not to make the PM-CARES fund political in any sense. There is no BJP representation on the PM-CARES fund – people will be on the trust based on their positions in government,” the functionary said.

“PM-CARES’s objectives include undertaking and supporting 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.”

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