Context:

  • The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the past, has denied Right to Information requests related to the PM-CARES Fund on the grounds that providing it would “disproportionately divert the resources of the office.”
  • However, a High Court judgment and multiple orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) have previously held that, under the RTI Act, this rationale can only be used to change the format of information provided, not deny it altogether.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Government Policies and Initiatives, Welfare Schemes, Issues arising out of the Design and Implementation of Government Initiatives)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About PM CARES fund
  2. Issues with PM CARES Fund
  3. Back to the Basics: Right to Information (RTI) Act
  4. Background to the RTI Petition of PM CARES

About PM CARES fund

  • The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was created on 28 March 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
  • The fund will be used for combating, and containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic like situations in the future.
  • Although the documentation for the constitution of the fund has not been made public, the Government of India has stated that the Prime Minister of India is the chairman of the fund, and that trustees include the Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance in the Government of India.
  • The PM CARES Fund has faced criticism for the lack of transparency and accountability in relation to its establishment, functioning, and accounts.
  • The total amount of funds donated and the names of donors have not been publicly disclosed, and the fund is privately audited.
  • The Government of India has initially claimed that the fund is a private fund, and denied that the PM CARES Fund is a public fund for the purposes of transparency laws such as the Right to Information Act 2005, even though the Fund uses government infrastructure and the national emblem of the Government of India.
  • In December 2020, the Government of India reversed its stance and admitted that the PM CARES Fund was a public fund, but still refused to disclose information regarding it under the Right to Information Act 2005.
  • There are currently several ongoing cases at the Supreme Court of India and several High Courts in relation to the Fund.

Issues with PM CARES Fund

  • Despite the existence of the NDRF and the PMNRF, the newly launched PM CARES Fund is in the limelight.
  • It has been created by the creation of a webpage. Concerns are raised about it not being created by law or even a notification.
  • The PM CARES Fund was neither created by the Constitution of India nor by any statute.
  • Critics argue that the newly created fund is a controversial, unanswerable, and ‘non-accountable’ vehicle as its character has not yet been spelt out.
  • The PM CARES Fund centralises the collection of donations and its utility, which is not only against the federal character but also practically inconvenient.
  • Besides, in a recent affidavit, the Delhi High Court was informed that the PM CARES Fund is not a Government of India fund and that the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India. The affidavit was filed by an Under-Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), who added that the trust functions with transparency.
  • While the Government said that it is a public charitable trust, it still maintains that it is not a ‘public authority’.

Back to the Basics: Right to Information (RTI) Act

  • Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.
  • This includes:
    1. disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure,
    2. powers and duties of its officers and employees, and
    3. financial information.
  • The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information.
  • If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities.
  • This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority.
  • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.

Background to the RTI Petition of PM CARES

  • The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was set to accept donations and provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other similar emergencies.
  • After the announcement of the PM CARES fund an RTI Application was filed asking the PMO to provide the Fund’s trust deed and all government orders, notifications and circulars relating to its creation and operation.
  • The Petition was filed regarding the need of a PM CARES fund when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was already existing.

-Source: The Hindu

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