Published: 24th September 2021
What the FAQ: Who actually runs PM-CARES and how does it operate?
The Modi government has been facing a lot of scrutiny from various quarters, to bring the PM-CARES Fund under the Right to Information Act
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the Modi government said that the contentious PM-CARES fund is not a government entity, and thus cannot be scrutinised under the RTI. We try to make head or tail of this matter in our FAQ.
When and why was it launched?
The Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, better known as the PM-Cares Fund was launched in the nascent stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in India on March 27 last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the Chairman of the fund, which is headquartered in the PM's Office in New Delhi. The public charitable trust collects donations from the general public (both in India, and abroad), and aims at strengthening the fight against COVID-19, helping Indians avail better treatment, and encourage research on ways to beat the Coronavirus," according to its official website.
How much funds has it gathered?
Last year, Rs. 3076.62 Crore was collected under the trust. According to an analysis by IndiaSpend, approximately 10,000 crore has been collected so far under the trust. Estimates further state that 4,308.3 crore of these funds come from the salaries of government employees, and the rest has been donated as part of various CSR initiatives, private companies, government agencies and celebrities.
Do we know how or where these funds have been spent?
On the official website, the spending was divided between the supply of ventilators made in India, to government hospitals, to aid of migrant workers, and for vaccine development. During Phase 1 of the vaccine drive for healthcare workers, it was reported that almost 80% of the vaccines had come from the PM-CARES fund. However, during the second wave of COVID-19 in India, there were reports of ventilators packed under the fund being faulty.
Who has control over such a "fund"?
The Modi government has been facing a lot of scrutiny from various quarters, to bring the PM-CARES Fund under the Right to Information Act. However, like it had stated last year, the Modi government yesterday informed the Delhi High Court that the fund does not belong to the government. Well that does sound absurd, given that the government has sole control over its spending, and has been promoting it widely ever since it was first set up.
Has a similar fund ever been set up by a sitting PM?
In January 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had set up the PM National Relief Fund in order to aid people displaced from Pakistan. The fund, which is definitively controlled by the Prime Minister's office, is also a trust, and hence, the governments over the years have maintained that it doesn't fall under the RTI, even though it accepts government-controlled money. In August this year, the Supreme Court had squashed a petition to merge the two funds.
What are the provisions and regulations for a sitting PM setting up such a fund?
These funds are trusts set up by the government, under the PM's office. However, since they are charitable trusts, they are deemed exempted from the provisions of the RTI. The PM's office has sole control over the expenditure of the amounts donated to these funds. However, lawyers and activists have been contending these terms over many years now, and with the PM-CARES Fund issue cropping up in light of the pandemic, it seems as if these questions will keep being dodged by the central government.