A new fund and many questions

Published : March 30, 2020 16:24 IST

Union Home Minister Amit Shah receives a cheque for 116 crore donated by paramilitary forces personnel to PM-CARES Fund to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: PTI

Many questions are being asked about the setting up of the new fund by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) when there is a Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) which has been in existence since 1948. Is there a need for a new fund based on the “trust” model when there was already a “trust” in the PMNRF?

“The PMNRF belongs to the people of India. Who does PM CARES Fund belong to?” asked the author and politician Salman Anees Soz. “The PMNRF has an unspent balance of Rs.3,800 crore [as of Dec 2019]. Why couldn’t #COVID19 donations go to PMNRF? Why was PM CARES created? Why are the Prime Minister and three other Ministers members of this trust without any opposition or civil society leaders as members?” he asked in a tweet on March 30, tagging the PMO. According to the PMNRF website, Rs.212.5 crore was spent last year (2018-19).

The PMNRF resources are “now utilised primarily to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes etc. and to the victims of the major accidents and riots. Assistance from PMNRF is also rendered to partially defray the expenses for medical treatment…,” the PMNRF website says. “The fund consists entirely of public contributions and does not get any budgetary support…. PMNRF is exempt under Income tax Act, 1961, under Section 10 and 139 for return purposes. Contributions towards PMNRF are notified for 100 per cent deduction for taxable income under Section 80(G),” it adds.

On PM CARES, the details are sketchy, barring what the government has released: The objective is to deal with any emergency or distress situation, much like the PMNRF. “Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected, a public charitable trust under the name of ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’ (PM CARES Fund)’ has been set up. Prime Minister is the Chairman of this trust and its Members include Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister,” a Press Information Bureau release of March 28 said.

Manoj, an advocate, asked the following questions on Twitter on March 29: “Is the settler/chairman—PM of India or Narendra Modi? The other members—in personal names or official capacity? What is the registered office address of the PM CARES trust?”

The contribution page is hosted in the Prime Minister’s official webpage, pmindia.gov.in. Prime Minister Modi has taken to social media, requesting donations: “It is my appeal to my fellow Indians. Kindly contribute to the PM-CARES Fund. This Fund will also cater to similar distressing situations, if they occur in the times ahead,” he tweeted on March 28. In another tweet, he said: “The PM-CARES Fund accepts micro-donations too. It will strengthen disaster management capacities and encourage research on protecting citizens. Let us leave no stone unturned to make India healthier and more prosperous for our future generations.”

Major industries and individuals have been contributing to the fund from the day it was set up. According to a Ministry of Corporate Affairs clarification issued on March 30, companies can fulfill their Corporate Social Responsibility obligations by merely writing a cheque to the PM CARES Fund.

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