New Delhi: The Centre justified the creation of PM Cares Fund before the Supreme Court on Thursday and said that mere existence of a statutory fund under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) would not prohibit the setting up of a different one which provides for voluntary donations.
It also opposed the suggestion that the contributions be transferred to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M R Shah took the Centre’s affidavit on record and asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to serve the copy of it to senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi, appearing for the NGO, ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL)’.
The bench tagged with a suo motu case on migrant workers issue, the CPIL plea seeking direction to the Centre to utilise the NDRF for providing assistance in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and crediting all the contributions from individuals and institutions to the NDRF rather than to PM Cares Fund.
It is submitted that there are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works. PM Cares is one such fund with voluntary donations,” said the Centre’s affidavit.
“It is submitted that there exists a fund stipulated under section 46 of the DMA which is called NDRF. However, mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit the creation of a different fund like the PM Cares Fund which provides for voluntary donations, it added.
It said that NDRF, as stipulated under the DMA, consisted of the fund in the form of budgetary provisions made by the central government. Similarly, state governments and the Centre make allocations in the State Disaster Response Funds (SDRFs) without any private contribution.
The affidavit filed by Ministry of Home Affairs said that prayer in the PIL for direction to Centre transfer the funds received by PM Cares Fund to NDRF is neither maintainable on merits nor under Article 32 as all funds other than the funds stipulated under section 46 of DM Act, 2005 are separate, different and distinct, created separately under separate provisions .
On March 28, the Centre set up the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund to deal with emergency situations like the one posed by the COVID-19 outbreak and provide relief to those affected.
The prime minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund and the defence, home and finance ministers are its ex-officio trustees.
The affidavit further said that mere criticism by few may not be enough to undermine a humongous and unprecedented response given to nationwide, including the central government, all state, local bodies, local self-government in rural areas, healthcare and sanitation workers and each individual citizen in his own way who all are corona warriors.
It is submitted that it may not be possible for this court to adjudicate this petition based upon few individuals and subjective criticisms, the government said.
It added that reference to such criticism made by some experts appears to be a product of a very myopic and subjective vision and this court would not either exercise the jurisdiction or refuse to exercise the jurisdiction based upon some individual views which may be criticising the response of the nation.
Our nation has responded to, dealt with and is dealing with this unprecedented human crisis in the best possible manner under the circumstances with rationale and optimal utilisation of resources at its command at various levels and in various forms, the affidavit said.
The government gave details of the role played by genuine NGOs through NITI Aayog, saying that it has formed an empowered Group which coordinates and has been actively and closely working with over 92,000 NGOs that genuinely work in public interest and helping them in charting the best course of response action.
The government said Rs 67,478 crore has been sent to around 42.06 crore beneficiaries of various schemes through direct benefit transfer till July 7, besides free foodgrain under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package.
The Centre said that due to the peculiar nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was advisable not to formulate a straight jacket guidelines on Minimum Standards of Relief.
Dealing with the National Plan for COVID-19 management as sought in the PIL, the government said that a National Disaster Management Plan as per section 11 of DMA is already in place at the national level, which deals specifically with biological and public health emergencies .
The government also raised preliminary objections on the CPIL filing the plea, saying that existence of a body only for PILs is contradiction in terms
It said that this court visits the question as to whether there can be a permanent body set up only to file litigation on issues which the said body subjectively considers to be of public interest .
Individuals, groups and organisations who were not in the business of filing PILs have already approached this court and other constitutional courts, the government said, adding that the top court has already been monitoring the response given by the nation to the on-going unprecedented pandemic.