The COVID-19 pandemic created havoc in the country of India after the first case of coronavirus disease was found on 30th January 2020 in Thrissur, Kerala. Soon there was a multiplication in the number of cases in the country which led to waves of fear among people. During such a disturbing state, our PM came up with different strategies to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and help the families of the affected people. During such a time of terror, the PM introduced the PM CARES Fund with an aim of to help combat the pandemic along with the support of all the citizens of the country along with an aim to combat similar pandemic like situations in the future.
The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund or as we better know, the PM CARES Fund, came into a lot of scrutiny in the later stage and it was heavily criticized for its lack of transparency, accountability and management of accounts. The donations made to the PM CARES Fund is eligible for 80G benefits for 100% exemption under the Income Tax Act, 1961. It is also counted under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013. This fund also got exemption from the FCRA. While reportedly no documents have been made public validating the constitution of this fund, PM Modi claims himself to be the chairman of the fund. The other members include Shri Rajnath Singh, Minister of Defence, Shri Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, and Shrimati Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance, who are acting as the main trustees of the fund.
Since the time this fund was promulgated, there was a strong opposition from other parties, especially the Congress Party. Shrimati Sonia Gandhi even went on to question the need of such a fund while there already exists three such funds, Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) which was initiated in 1948 by the then PM Nehru and two other funds namely, the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), and the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). The PM CARES Fund is eligible to receive funds from the PSUs. This exemption is not provided in the PMNRF, as it specifically states that “Contributions flowing out of the balance sheets of the Public Sector Undertakings (PSU’s) or from the budgetary sources of Government are not accepted.” This led to further petitions being filed in the Supreme Court to merge the PM CARES Fund with the PMNRF and NDRF or transfer its funds to the PMNRF or NDRF.
Centre For Public Interest Litigation vs Union Of India:
In this case, the petitioners contented that the funds collected should be credited into the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) under Section 46 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. They also asked to transfer all the grants or collections to the NDRF in terms of Section 46(1)(b) of the Act. The NDRF is subject to CAG Audit but the PM CARES Fund is not subject to CAG Audit which is a matter of concern.
The judgement given was that, “The NDRF and PM CARES Fund are two entirely different funds with different object and purpose. The contribution by any person or by any institution in PM CARES Fund is voluntary and it is open for any person or institution to make contribution to the PM CARES Fund. The funds collected in the PM CARES Fund are entirely different funds which are funds of a public charitable trust and there is no occasion for issuing any direction to transfer the said funds to the NDRF.”
The SC also said that, “The PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust and is not a Government fund.”
While the controversy regarding the PM CARES Fund still remains, people have moved forward with other allegations against the central government. With the increasing number of cases in India, the public wanted the government to take measures to sustain the population. After the nation-wide lockdown begun, businesses started to see their downfall. Especially the small scale traders now had no means of survival as they had lost their businesses to the pandemic. Many big corporations even started firing their employees. The Indian economy saw a downfall it had never seen in the last decades. The healthcare systems collapsed owing to unavailabilty of funds. An important question that arose during these times was, where did the funds of PM CARES Fund go? Why wasn’t it being used even though everyone was aware that starting from the poor to the rich had contributed immensely to the PM CARES Fund? This led to further criticisms against the government.
The first phase of the pandemic saw innumerable deaths but then the healthcare system bounced back with the introduction of two new vaccines. The situation had improved and the nation-wide lockdowns had been removed. The businesses finally saw a ray of light. While everyone was preparing to get back to their normal lives, the new COVID-19 strain hit the country. The B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV2, also being called a ‘double mutant’ or the ‘Indian strain’ hit the country severely. The new number cases in the country, especially in Maharashtra and Delhi have exploded and crippled the healthcare system. With a nation-wide shortage of beds in hospitals and an acute shortage of oxygen cylinders again forced the public to question, does the PM really care?
In the times of such severe shortage of proper healthcare facilities leading to numerous deaths, the political parties, including the ruling party in the centre, successfully conducted election campaigns and rallies with no COVID protocols being followed. A twitter hashtag started making trends with #PMdoesnotcare. At a time, when the education sector has been shut down, the business sector has been shutdown, there has been a complete pitfall in the economy with the healthcare sector being left with unavailabity of resources, was conducting election rallies really important? The main stream media might not be interested to answer this question now, but it still stares at the face of every citizen of this nation. This question will not be answered any soon so it is you and I who have to answer this. DOES THE PM REALLY CARE?
AUTHORED BY: SMRUTI SAGARIKA DAS