Is the PM-CARES fund set up for Covid a private or government trust? While it has been defined as a government trust for the purpose of corporate donations, a clause in the trust documents calls it a private entity, which leaves it exempt from RTI scrutiny.
The PM-CARES trust has been registered with the revenue department of Delhi, with the Prime Minister as chairperson and senior ministers as trustees. But the trust deed made public recently on the fund's website does not define it as a government trust.
Point 5.3 of the Trust Deed says: "The trust is neither intended to be or is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any government or any instrumentality of the government. There is no control of either the central government or any state governments, either direct or indirect, in the functioning of the trust in any manner whatsoever."
PM-CARES or the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund was set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March to "deal with emergency or distress situations like the coronavirus pandemic".
The trust was registered on March 27. The very next day, on March 28, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued an office memorandum qualifying PM-CARES as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to receive corporate donations.
The Companies Act defines eligibility for corporate donations as: "Contribution to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government or the State Governments for socio-economic development and relief and funds for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women."
Documents accessed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj through an RTI query reveal that the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, while issuing the March 28 Office Memorandum, defined PM-CARES as a "fund set up by the central government".
But the trust deed from a day before said it was not government-run, so PM-CARES could not have been eligible for corporate donations.
The contradiction continued until almost two months later, on May 26, the Corporate Affairs Ministry added PM-CARES Fund to the Companies Act retrospectively from March 28.
For two months, PM-CARES was a private entity receiving corporate donations.
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had in a tweet on August 20 raised the question: "If the Fund is a private established fund, why are donations to the fund counted against CSR?"
If the Fund was not set up by the central government, why are the PM and three Ministers serving as Trustees? Who appointed them as Trustees?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) August 20, 2020
If the Fund is a private established fund, why are donations to the Fund counted against CSR?
NDTV had filed an RTI application with the Prime Minister's Office asking for the same trust deed, but the request was rejected on the ground that the fund is not a public entity.