After the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set up the PM CARES Fund and invited people to contribute to the Fund. PM CARES Fund Trust was formed on 27th March this year to receive public donations to fight emergencies or distresses like the current Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister is the Chairman of this trust, and its members include Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.
After the PM CARES fund was set up by the government, opposition parties and a section of left-liberal intellectuals had launched a campaign against it, alleging that the fund will be misused as it will not be audited by the CAG. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had demanded that the entire money collected in the fund should be transferred to the PM National Relief Fund. The PMNRF is also not audited by the CAG, as both the fund does not receive any taxpayers’ money, but accepts only voluntary donations.
The tirade against the PM CARES Fund did not stop there and several conspiracy theories were floated. Now, a new attempt is being made to spread canards and misinformation regarding the PM CARES Fund.
The Hindu recently published a report claiming that the PM CARES Fund had refused to divulge information in response to an RTI.
In the tweet, they wrote, “The Prime Minister’s Office has denied a Right to Information request related to the PM-CARES Fund on the grounds that providing it would “disproportionately divert the resources of the office'”.
One glance at the text shared by The Hindu, one would imagine that the Prime Minister’s office has denied the request for information relating to the Fund and/or the usage of the funds collected under PM CARES. In fact, without really reading the details of the report, several Congress politicians and their trolls started reacting and insinuating that a scam was brewing in the PM CARES Fund and hence, PMO had refused to divulge details.
Narendra Modi denies to reveal the amount of PM Cares Fund!— anjan (@anjangreat) August 17, 2020
Why is he deliberately hiding? Is it not a cheat to one who belived him he’s a transparent & genuine?
One who cheats people in politics became history in the history books! https://t.co/SEAxRzWe4P
2 तोले सोने की खरीद औऱ 20000 के होटल बिल पर सरकार को जानकारी देनी होगी….— Jitu Patwari (@jitupatwari) August 17, 2020
साहब पीएमकेयर्स का न ऑडिट होने देंगे न किसी को RTI का अधिकार है
क्या पीएमकेयर्स आय,व्यय जानने का हक देश को
नही है !#PMCares
Several such tweets insinuated that the PMO had refused to divulge information about the usage of the funds under PM CARES, however, the truth was far from it.
What The Hindu report said about the PM CARES RTI
The Hindu report says that activist Lokesh Batra (retd.) had filed an RTI request asking for the “total number of RTI applications and appeals received and disposed of in the PMO each month since April 2020, as well as the number of such applications and appeals related to PM-CARES and the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund”.
At the very outset, it is clear that the RTI did not pertain to the usage of funds at all. It pertained to the number of RTIs received by the department in total, the number of RTIs disposed and the number of RTIs which were specific to PM CARES and PMNRF.
Further, the report says that the PMO did respond to the RTI with the overall data that it had, however, did not give the breakdown of the RTIs that pertained specifically to the two funds – PM CARES and PMNRF.
The reason cited by the PMO, according to The Hindu report, was, “The information sought by you is not maintained in this office in compiled form. Its collection and compilation would disproportionately divert the resources of this office from the efficient discharge of its normal functions, thereby attracting the provisions under Section 7(9) of the Act”.
It is pertinent to note here that the RTI was not about the funds’ utilisation at all. Information regarding how the funds are being utilised have been provided earlier from time to time. For example, Rs 3,100 crores were allotted to fight Coronavirus, for example, to manufacture ventilators.
Further, news had emerged that the Prime Minister’s Office had seen a 15% reduction in its staff strength keeping in tune with the “Minimum government” mantra of PM Modi. The reduction of staff can be one reason for not wanting to divert resources.
The chicanery by The Hindu – misrepresenting facts to insinuate wrongdoing
The Hindu starts the report with a load of insinuation that are sans merit.
The Hindu starts the article by insinuating that the PMO had altogether refused to provide information.
The Hindu cites the High Court judgement to say that this rationale can be used to change the format of information sought but not refuse to provide information altogether. However, further in the report, it is revealed that the PMO did indeed provide consolidated information and said that giving a break-up of the RTIs received specifically for PM CARES and PMNRF would result in the disproportionate diversion of resources since the department only keeps consolidated data and not the break-up.
Further, after providing the explanation by the PMO, that cites Section 7 (9), The Hindu goes ahead and tries to caste aspersions again, sans merit.
The Hindu in this section tries to insinuate that the PMO is citing an incorrect section to “deny information” in response to the RTI. The Hindu essentially says that if the PMO had to “deny information”, it would have to do it under Section 8 (1) which lists the various valid reasons for exemption under the Act. “HOWEVER”, The Hindu says, Section 7 (9), which was cited by the PMO, “ONLY SAYS” that information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unwell “it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority”.
The use of words like “however”, only exposes the nefarious designs of The Hindu. While citing Section 7 (9) and the legality of what the PMO has done, The Hindu attempts to insinuate that the PMO has indulged in breach of law by not only citing the incorrect section but also by “refusing information” based on it.
The fact is that the PMO has cited Section 7(9) and while providing consolidated information, said that it will not be able to provide a break up of the number of RTIs that pertains only to PM CARES and PMNRF since PMO does not keep the break up of the information and compilation of such would lead to the disproportionate diversion of resources.
Further, The Hindu cites the High Court order that says that the authority may only provide information in a different format and not refuse information altogether. However, PMO seems to have done exactly that. It has provided the consolidated data.
The Hindu report itself says, “On the eve of Independence Day, the PMO responded, providing the overall data, but denying information specific to the two funds”.
Hence, it can be said that the PMO did provide information but in a different format. Evidently, The Hindu wanted to slyly insinuate wrongdoing with working the article in a manner loaded with allegations, which can then be picked up by Congress trolls and others to allege that a scam was underway.
It must be remembered that The Hindu has a history of misreporting documents to try and allege a scam that finds its way directly to the PM. Earlier, The Hindu had morphed and edited Defence Documents to insinuate a scam in the Rafale deal by the PMO. This allegation was then picked up by the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi. Even after the full document being released that debunked the allegations, The Hindu had refused to rectify itself.