New Delhi: The Centre strongly defended Monday the ‘PM CARES Fund’ in the Supreme Court. The Centre said that the ‘PM CARES Fund’ is a public trust. The ‘PM CARES Fund’ is meant to receive voluntary contributions’ to fight COVID-19 pandemic and the budgetary allocations for ‘NDRF’ and ‘SDRF’ are not ‘being touched’.
The statement was made by the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre. He appeared before a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan which reserved its order on one of the prayers of the PIL, filed by NGO ‘ Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL)’. The plea is seeking a direction that all the money collected under the PM CARES Fund for the COVID-19 pandemic should be transferred to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
The Centre had set up the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund March 28. The primary objective was to deal with any kind of emergency situation like the one currently posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. The fund is meant provide relief to those affected. The prime minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund and the defence, home and finance ministers are its ex-officio trustees.
During the hearing, the Solicitor General told the bench, also comprising Justices SK Kaul and MR Shah, that the PM CARES Fund is a ‘voluntary fund’. However funds to the NDRF and SDRF (State Disaster Response Fund) are made available through budgetary allocations.
“It (PM CARES Fund) is a public trust. It is a body where you can make voluntary contributions. No budgetary allocations to the NDRF or SDRF are being touched. What has to be spent will be spent,” the law officer said, adding that no law has been violated.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioner NGO, said they are not doubting the bona fide of anyone. However, the creation of the PM CARES Fund is allegedly in contravention of provisions of the Disaster Management Act. He claimed that an audit of the NDRF is being conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) but the government has said the audit of the PM CARES Fund will be done by private auditors.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for another party, said that all CSR contribution benefits are given to the PM Cares Fund and they are denied to the state disaster relief funds and ‘these are very serious issues which need to be looked into’.
Mehta said that a national plan was prepared in 2019 and that had included the ways to deal with the “biological disaster.”
“That time no one knew of COVID-19. It is biological and public health disaster plan which is part of national plan. So this contention that there was no plan is factually wrong. The plan to tackle such disasters changes with the need. We cannot have a constant and static plan and needs to be updated from time to time,” the solicitor general stated. the law officer said.