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'Supreme Court has not given clean chit to PM-CARES'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
September 03, 2020 13:24 IST
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'PM-CARES money is for the relief of citizens, so what is the secrecy then?'
'Why will it harm anyone if it is revealed where the money came from and where it is going?'
'What is there to hide?'

Photograph: Press Information Bureau
 

Right to Information activist Anjali Bhardwaj filed a petition to know the details of money being spent by PM-CARES Fund, which has been in the news for not being transparent about its funding and disbursements.

However, like all other RTI applications on PM-CARES, she didn't get any answer.

The fund authorities refused to entertain her, stating that PM-Cares was not a public authority under the RTI Act.

Undeterred by the negative response, Bhardwaj went on filing RTIs to PM-CARES, the prime minister's office, the ministry of corporate affairs, the ministry of health and the ministry of labour to know about ventilators being provided by PM-CARES.

"Through this RTI response we came to know that less than 18,000 ventilators were procured and supplied as opposed to the planned 50,000-plus ventilators," Bhardwaj tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

What information did you seek through your RTI plea?

PM-CARES Fund was set up for relief during disasters like COVID-19.

Unfortunately, PM-CARES has not provided active information on how much funds are coming in and where the funds are going.

In India, we know that unless all this information is not put in the public domain the beneficiaries will not get any benefit.

RTI pleas filed by various citizens were unanswered and stonewalled by stating that PM-CARES is not a public authority.

So, we had filed a set of RTI applications at the prime minister's office, saying all the files that are held by the PMO regarding PM-CARES should be provided.

Now the PMO is a public authority under the RTI Act.

All the files (with the PMO) and records are covered under the definition of the RTI Act.

If they have to deny any information, they have to do so under section 8 or section 9 of the RTI Act.

But they went ahead and said PM-CARES is not a public authority and they cannot give any information now as it is not permissible under law.

I did not file an RTI to PM-CARES, but to the PMO asking for files it holds about the fund.

We will appeal again as our first appeal was unfortunately dismissed .

Now we are going to approach the Central Information Commissioner.

What did you find in your other RTI pleas which you filed with different ministries?

One of the things that came out in the public domain was that Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) was spent on providing ventilators for COVID-19 relief.

We wanted to know which were the hospitals these ventilators have been provided to.

Were they central government hospitals?

Which are these hospitals?

Where was this money spent?

This RTI plea was filed in the health ministry.

The reply we received showed that there were purchase orders placed by the ministry before the PM-CARES Fund was set up and the proposal was to fund those ventilators.

In this RTI response, we came to know that less than 18,000 ventilators were procured and supplied as opposed to the planned 50,000-plus ventilators.

Also, there were two companies that received advance payment, but they did not pass the trials.

Rs 22 crore (Rs 220 million) was given to them in advance, but eventually they failed the trials.

The RTI response also shows that a letter went from the PMO saying that all the ventilators should prominently display PM-CARES logo and a GPS tracker must be fitted on them.

What happened to the Rs 22 crore?

This information was not provided to us.

All we see is that there are two tables -- one shows that they gave money to two companies.

They are silent on what happened to the advance of Rs 22 crore.

Is PM-CARES really a public authority for RTI purposes?

When PM-CARES was set up, there were certain things done to attract funds.

One of the things was that both public and private sector companies were told that they could contribute their CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds to PM-CARES.

We have also accessed file notings under the RTI Act from the ministry of corporate affairs and that clearly shows that the reason companies are giving the CSR money to PM-CARES was because it was set up by the central government.

They have given this in writing.

In fact, office memorandum which went out to the companies says that PM-CARES Fund was set up by the central government.

Therefore, it is eligible for CSR funding.

Now under the RTI Act, the definition of public authority is that any 'body' that is set up by the central government is a public authority.

So, it is totally inexplicable how then can the government say PM-CARES is not a public authority?

What it shows is that on one hand, to get the CSR money, the government says PM-CARES is a public authority and it has been set up under the aegis of the central government.

But when it comes to being transparent and replying to RTI queries, the government is saying PM-CARES is not a public authority.

If I am not mistaken, PM-CARES disclosed that it got Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) plus through donations, isn't it?

If an authority is under the RTI Act cannot disclose things on their own and not give responses to RTI queries...

They are not saying where the money is going, whom the money is going to and which are the companies getting the money.

They are not giving any information.

No details are being given in the public domain.

PM-CARES Web site gives no details as to where the money is going, who are the beneficiaries.

When we are filing RTI applications, they say we will not give a response because it is not a public authority.

If PM-CARES Fund was set up by the central government, then under the RTI Act it becomes a public authority.

How are they then saying they will not give information under the RTI Act?

The Bharatiya Janata Party claims a clean chit was given by the Supreme Court to PM-CARES.

The Supreme Court of India has not given any clean chit to PM-CARES.

The petition before the Supreme Court of India was whether the funds under PM-CARES should be transferred to the NDRF (National Disaster Response Force).

The Supreme Court of India said, 'No'.

They (the Supreme Court) dismissed that petition and they have not said anything about the RTI law or transparency.

In spite of all odds, you are still going to fight to get information on PM-CARES?

Unless you have information, people will not get their rights.

You will not get benefits as corruption is rampant.

You can fight corruption only when you have transparent information.

PM-CARES money is for the relief of citizens, so what is the secrecy then?

Why will it harm anyone if it is revealed where the money came from and where it is going?

There is no harm in revealing this information.

What is there to hide?

If people know how much money is coming, how much money is going and where, they will monitor and ensure that the money goes to the right place.

Under the RTI Act these things are legally mandated.

Under the law they are obligated as they are a public authority.

They have to give the information.

It is a statutory requirement.

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