Since its launch on March 28, 2020, the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or PM-CARES, has been embroiled in several controversies.
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf traces the journey of PM-CARES from its founding to finally admitting it is not a government fund.
Table: Hemant Shivsharan/Rediff.com
PM-CARES was registered on March 27, 2020, as a public charitable trust, four days before the closure of the financial year 2019-20.
The announcement of its launch was made to the public the next day.
At that time it seemed that the central government was in dire need of funds to tackle COVID-19 in a difficult economic situation.
No one knew then what the pandemic's outcome would be and how long it will persist, except that COVID-19 would herald a major financial and economic disruption.
Four days prior, on March 24, 2020, with just four hours' notice, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi had suddenly declared a nationwide lockdown, for 21 days. All economic activities in the country came to an abrupt halt.
At the launch of PM-CARES, Modi was named its chairman.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah were the trustees.
The first row erupted when critics questioned the need for another centralised relief fund when India already has the Prime Minister National Relief Fund at the Centre and the Chief Minister Relief Funds at the state level, besides the State Disaster Management Authority Funds.
Despite the criticism, the Modi government went ahead with PM-CARES.
Within days of its launch several well-known personalities began donating to it.
Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar donated Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) to PM-CARES, making a huge start for this new fund.
In April 2020, another controversy came to the fore when the government asked all employees of its ministries to contribute a day's salary to PM-CARES.
Though this donation was meant to be voluntary, the circular issued by the government stated that any officer or staff having objections to the donation can intimate so in writing.
In May 2020, PM-CARES issued a press release (external link) through the Press Information Bureau stating it is allocating Rs 3,100 crore (Rs 31 billion) to fight COVID-19.
Of this amount, approximately Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) would be earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, Rs 1,000 crores (Rs 10 billion) would be used for care of migrant labourers and Rs 100 crores (Rs 1 billion) would be granted to support vaccine development, the statement said.
There was no information on the collection and source of the money.
Soon another controversy erupted after India Spend revealed (external link) that the fund had raised Rs 9,667.9 crore (Rs 96.679 billion) in 52 days.
By June 2020, activists and lawyers knocked on the doors of various courts in the country as PM-CARES was not sharing any details about the source of funds or how it was being spent.
Petitioner Samyak Gangwal approached (external link) the Delhi high court stating that PM-CARES had to come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
On June 2, 2020, the Central Public Information Officer in the PMO refused to provide documents on PM-CARES sought by Gangwal under the RTI Act.
Gangwal's argument was that the Modi government must stop using the State emblem, the domain name 'gov' on the PM-CARES Web site or the prime minister's photograph for PM-CARES if there was no transparency in its dealings.
|All you need to know about PM-CARES|
|PM-CARES FUND||Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund|
|Contact Detailsfirstname.lastname@example.org [For Domestic Donation]|
|email@example.com [For Foreign Donation]|
|Launch Date||March 28, 2020|
|Documentation for the constitution of the fund has not been made public|
|Chairman||Prime Minister of India Narendra Damodardas Modi|
|Trustees||Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh|
|Minister of Home Affairs Amit Anilchandra Shah|
|Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman|
|Type of domestic donations accepted in PM-CARES||PM-CARES Fund accepts voluntary contributions by individuals/organisations as well as contributions as part of CSR from Companies/Public Sector Undertakings.|
|Exempted from income tax||All contributions towards PM CARES Fund are 100% exempt from income tax under Section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 for those who opt for the old tax slabs.|
|PM-CARES Fund is exempted from paying income tax||Yes, the fund is exempted from paying income tax as per Section 10(23)(c) of Income Tax Act, 1961.|
|Quantum of funds collected under PM-CARES during last year||During 2019-2020, an amount of Rs 3076.62 crore (Rs 30.76 billion) was collected under the PM-CARES Fund.|
|Quantum of contribution received in foreign currency in PM-CARES last year||During 2019-2020, an amount of Rs 39.68 lakh (Rs 3.968 million) was collected in foreign currency by PM-CARES.|
|Total amount of funds donated and names of donors||Not disclosed publicly and funds are privately audited by an independent auditor.|
|April 23, 2020||Trustees appoint SARC & Associates, chartered accountants in New Delhi, as the auditors of the PM-CARES Fund for 3 years. No statutory period prescribed for audit of PM-CARES under the Income Tax Act. Audit will be conducted at the end of the financial year.|
|Money sanctioned from PM-CARES Fund||Rs 3,100 crore (Rs 31 billion) has been allocated from PM-CARES.|
|a. Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion): For supply of 50,000 'Made-in India' ventilators to government hospitals run by the Centre/States/Union Territories.|
|b. Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion): For care of migrant labourers (funds allotted to States/Uion Territories).|
|c. Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion): For vaccine development.|
|Receipt and Payment Accounts for the period ended March 31, 2020||Statement uploaded to the PM-CARES Web site indicating that the total amount donated to the fund between March 27, 2020, when it was established, and March 31, 2020, was ₹30.76 billion.|
|March 27, 2020||The trust deed of the PM-CARES Fund was registered under the Registration Act, 1908 at New Delhi.|
|March 28, 2020||Appeal to generously donate to the PM's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund)|
|March 29, 2020||PM-CARES Fund set-up information|
|May 13, 2020||PM-CARES Fund Trust allocates Rs 3,100 crore for fight against COVID-19.|
|June 23, 2020||50,000 Made in India ventilators under PM-CARES Fund to fight COVID-19.|
|January 5, 2021||PM-CARES Fund Trust allocates Rs 201.58 crores (Rs 2.01 billion) for installation of 162 dedicated PSA Medical Oxygen Generation Plants in public health facilities.|
|April 25, 2021||551 PSA Oxygen Generation Plants to be set up in public health facilities across the country through PM-CARES.|
|April 28, 2021||100,000 Portable Oxygen Concentrators to be procured from PM-CARES.|
|May 2, 2021||Modi reviews progress on setting up of PSA plants.|
|May 12, 2021||150,000 units of Oxycare Systems to procured through PM-CARES.|
|May 29, 2021||PM-CARES For Children - Empowerment of Covid Affected Children -- launched for support and empowerment of Covid-affected children.|
|May 29, 2021||Government announces further measures to help families who lost an earning member due to Covid.|
|June 16, 2021||Establishment of two 250-bed makeshift Covid hospitals in Murshidabad and Kalyani in West Bengal through PM-CARES.|
|July 9, 2021||Modi chairs meeting to review ramping up of oxygen supply across the country.|
As the country was facing a slowdown in economic activities, the Modi government became more and more cagey about sharing details about PM-CARES.
Activists filed RTI plea after plea with virtually every government department trying to secure whatever information they could on PM-CARES.
In August 2020, activist Anjali Bharadwaj discovered (external link) through an RTI inquiry with the ministry of health that there was a vast difference in the prices of ventilators purchased under the PM-CARES fund while two of the companies to whom an advance was released were later not recommended by the technical committee constituted under the Director General of Health Services.
In September 2020, Opposition parties started attacking PM-CARES in Parliament and questioned its lack of transparency.
They pointed out that PM-CARES was not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and did not come under the purview of the RTI Act.
Taking a dig at the lack of transparency over PM-CARES, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi tweeted, 'Chaliye, transparency ko vanakkam (goodbye to transparency)'.
Rahul Gandhi also shared a news report which claimed that there was no clarity whether PM-CARES was a government or private fund.
In a press release, (external link), the government stated that PM-CARES had allocated Rs 201.58 crore (Rs 2.01 billion) for the installation of additional 162 dedicated Pressure Swing Adsorption Medical Oxygen Generation Plants in public health facilities in the country.
In February 2021, PM-CARES decided to contribute over Rs 2,200 crore (Rs 22 billion) for the first phase of the vaccination drive that had begun in the country.
As the COVID-19 second wave engulfed India, PM-CARES released 100,000 portable oxygen cylinders.
Many people had died due to want of oxygen and many hospitals lacked oxygen or beds for COVID-19 patients at that time.
In May, the government said through PM-CARES children, who lost their parents to COVID-19, would get a monthly stipend once they turn 18 and Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) when they turn 23.
In August 2021, the Supreme Court began asking tough questions about PM-CARES and whether the central government could immediately release funds from PM-CARES to educate children who have been orphaned or have lost their legal guardians or either of their parents during the pandemic.
On September 23, the Centre made the startling assertion to the Delhi high court that the PM-CARES Fund was not a government fund as the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India.
'PM-CARES is a public charitable trust and that it is not created by or under the Indian Constitution or any other statute, and the amount received by it does not go in the Consolidated Fund of India,' an affidavit filed by an under secretary at the prime minister's office stated.
This astonishing admission about PM-CARES raises many, many, questions about how funds were collected, utilised and monitored.
As they say in the movies: Kahani abhi baaki hain, dost.