The Indian government has informed the country’s Supreme Court that there are several funds which were either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works, and PM-CARES was one such fund with voluntary donations.
The PM-CARES fund, set up by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, has sparked some controversy in India over worries about accountability and transparency, though the Modi government has staunchly denied any digression from rules.
The Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) has in the plea claimed that in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, the national disaster relief fund (NDRF) was not being utilized by the authorities and establishing the PM-CARES fund was outside the scope of the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
The affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by India’s ministry of home affairs said: “It is submitted there exists a fund stipulated under section of the DMA which is called NDR fund. However, mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit in creation of a different fund like PM-CARES fund which provides for voluntary donations.”
The government contended that the petition seeking a direction that the funds received by PM-CARES to be credited to the NDRF was neither maintainable on merits nor under Article 32 as all funds other than the funds stipulated under Section 46 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 are separate, different and distinct, created separately under separate provisions.
The court had June 17 issued notice to the government on the CPIL litigation seeking to transfer funds from PM-CARES to the NDRF. A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MR Shah asked the Centre to file a response within four weeks.
The petitioner argued that the entire funds collected in PM-CARES till date may be directed to be transferred to the NDRF.
The petition also argued that there was a need to put in place a broader and well thought out national plan outlining a detailed coordination mechanism between the federal government and states. “Currently, there is no such national plan in place to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” argued the plea.
The government submitted that there was a national plan drawn up under Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act dealing with biological and public health emergencies but it does not have day to day specific instructions.