Following the government's refusal to divulge details of PM Cares Fund under the RTI Act, 100 former bureaucrats and civil servants, on Saturday, wrote an open letter addressed to the Prime Minister raising questions on its transparency. In December 2020, the government had refused details on the fund collected and spent claiming that PM Cares Fund is not a public authority under the ambit of the RTI.
"If it is not a public authority, how have the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Defence Minister and Finance Minister, as members of the government, lent their designations and official positions to it? Why are they Trustees in their official capacity and not as private citizens?" the letter probed.
Questioning the formation of a new fund while a fund for national relief already exists and its hasty formation, the letter adds, "Both the purpose for which it has been created as well as the way it has been administered have left a number of questions unanswered." PM-CARES was created by the Centre in March 2020 amidst the lockdown "for the benefit of those affected by the pandemic."
Referring to a circular released by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in March 2020 which states that donations to PM-CARES shall qualify as CSR expenditure, the letter questions how donations to PM CARES could be eligible as CSR expenditure if the PM CARES were a private trust for the Companies Acts allows CSR exemptions for only certain types of funds established by Government.
The letter also recollects the Supreme Court verdict in 2019 which held that trusts, societies and non-government organisations, both private and public, which enjoy "substantial government financing", should be treated as "public authorities" under the RTI Act.
The letter also recalled how AR Antulay, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, resigned in 1980 after BJP functionaries challenged his formation of private funds which functioned as it belonged to the government.
"It is necessary that, for reasons of probity and adherence to standards of public accountability, the financial details of receipts and expenditures be made available in order to avoid doubts of wrongdoing," the letter asserts. "This opacity is disturbing as the State governments handling the COVID-19 challenge were, and continue to be, sorely in need of financial assistance," it added.
Signatories of the letter include IAS officers Anita Agnihotri, SP Ambrose, Sharad Behar, Sajjad Hassan, Harsh Mander, P Joy Oommen, Aruna Roy, former diplomats Madhu Bhaduri, KP Fabian, Deb Mukharji, Sujatha Singh and former IPS officers AS Dulat, PGJ Nampoothiri and Julio Ribeiro among others.