- Money for coronavirus need not be transferred to NDRF, the court says
- It says funds collected by PM Cares Fund are those of charitable trusts
- The verdict was delivered through video-conferencing
Money collected under the PM CARES Fund for the coronavirus pandemic need not be transferred to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), the Supreme Court said today, adding that funds collected by the PM Cares Fund are those of charitable trusts and "entirely different". The government is free to transfer money to the disaster response fund if it feels it is appropriate to do so, the top court said.
Any contribution or grant can be credited to the NDRF and anyone can make a voluntary contribution, the top court said as it heard a petition by an NGO called the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. The petition had asked the court to direct the transfer of contributions made to the PM CARES Fund for the pandemic to the National Disaster Response Fund. The PM CARES fund violates the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, the petition argued.
The Supreme Court refused to give such an instruction to the centre.
The court also said there is no need for a new plan and that one under the National Disaster Management Act, made by the government last November, is enough to deal with COVID-19.
Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was set up by the centre on March 28 to deal with any kind of emergency situation like the one currently posed by the pandemic 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 ex-officio trustees.
A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah delivered the verdict today through video-conferencing.
"Transparency is writ large in PM-CARES Fund both in terms of legal requirement and transparent management of funds received on a voluntary basis... Unnecessary targeting of the PM CARES fund has been done in the high court and in the Supreme Court," Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said after the verdict. He also hit out at the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi, saying he had "tried to pull down" the government in its fight against coronavirus since Day 1.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan too reacted to the verdict.
Unfortunate that the SC allows the non-transparent & unaccountable PM-Cares fund set up as a secret trust to garner money in the name of Covid relief, rather than transferring such funds to the Statutory NDRF which is accessible under RTI & audited by CAG. https://t.co/jZX6Q5Y8EJ— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 18, 2020
The Congress and others have questioned the legal validity of the fund and questioned the need for it, pointing to the similar Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
Concerns have also been raised over corporate social responsibility benefits denied to contributions to state disaster relief funds, and the fact the fund is not under the audit of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The centre has defended the PM CARES Fund, saying it is a voluntary fund while budgetary allocations took care of the disaster response fund. It argued that just because the latter exists does not prohibit the creation of the PM Cares Fund for voluntary donations.