The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea seeking transfer of money collected under the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) set up for Coronavirus relief to the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF).
As reported by Bar and Bench, the three-judge bench of justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, and MR Shah also held that contributions to the PM CARES Fund are voluntary and that there was no statutory prohibition on contributions made to the NDRF, hence the funds need not be transferred to NDRF.
Supreme Court says, in its order on the utilisation of PM Cares Fund for national disaster management, that PM Cares Fund money cannot be directed to be deposited or transferred to the National Disaster Relief Fund. pic.twitter.com/BwdXip9Mbx— ANI (@ANI) August 18, 2020
While disposing of the petition, Supreme Court said, that there was no need for fresh national disaster relief plan.
Clarifying that the funds collected under the PM CARES Fund are entirely different from the NDRF, as these are funds belonging to a charitable trust the apex court held that plan prepared by the Centre is sufficient to cater to the pandemic. It rejected petitioner’s request to set up a National Plan for COVID-19.
The bench said that the minimum standard of relief issued by the government prior to COVID-19 to continue and that no fresh issuance is required
The writ petition filed by CPIL
The SC was hearing a writ petition filed by an NGO- Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which had claimed that PM CARES Fund was set up in violation of the legal mandate under the Disaster Management Act. It claimed that under the DM Act any grant made by any person or institution for the purpose of disaster management should be compulsorily credited to NDRF.
Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave, representing the NGO (the petitioner in this case) had also questioned the audit mechanism of the PM’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund. Dave argued that the NDRF has to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) while PM CARES is audited by some private auditor.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing in a connected matter related to drawing up a National Disaster Management Plan, argued that since contributions to PM CARES are eligible for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) benefits, corporates and others would not have the incentive to donate to the NDRF.
Meanwhile, the Centre, in its affidavit filed in the matter, had defended the creation of the PM CARES Fund and opposed the transfer of these funds to the NDRF.
However, the apex court today dismissed all arguments seeking the transfer of money collected under the PM CARES Fund to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
PM CARES Fund collected Rs 6500 crores within a few days of its launch
The PM CARES Fund was set up by the central government on March 28 as a public charitable trust with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation such as that posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Notably, with open-hearted donations from the public, corporates and celebrities, it collected over Rs 6500 crores within a few days of its launch.
Sonia Gandhi demanded contributions should be transfered to PMNRF
It is pertinent to note that the oppositions parties, including the left and the Congress Party had also lamented over the government’s decision to create PM CARES Fund. The Congress had written to PM Narendra Modi demanding that all money under the PM-CARES fund be transferred to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). According to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, this was to be done for ‘better transparency, accountability and efficiency’.
In this regard, it is pertinent to note that the PMNRF had a management committee that oversaw how the funds are employed. While the Prime Minister has discretion, the committee, when it was set up by Jawaharlal Nehru included the President of the Congress party.
The Modi government had however, ignored the demads made by the Congress President.