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Published On: Thu, Sep 23rd, 2021

PM-CARES: Can’t be brought under RTI: Centre to Delhi HC

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373268-pm-cares-fund-2NEW DELHI : The Union government and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told the Delhi High Court that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund (PM-CARES Fund), a charitable trust under the law, is not a fund of the Government of India.
The Centre also added that the PM-CARES fund can neither be brought under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act as a public authority nor can it be listed as a State.
An affidavit filed by an Under Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who is discharging his functions in the PM Cares Trust on honorary basis, has said the trust functions with transparency and its funds are audited by an auditor — a chartered accountant drawn from the panel prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
It vehemently contended that irrespective of the status of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) under the Constitution and the RTI Act, it is not permissible to disclose third party information. The affidavit was filed in response to a petition seeking a direction to declare the PM CARES Fund a ‘State’ under the Constitution to ensure transparency in its functioning. The same petitioner has also filed another petition to declare PM CARES as a ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act, which is being heard together with this plea.

The statement came in response to the pleas in the court seeking to know the legal status of the PM-CARES fund. The Centre in an affidavit told a bench of chief justice DN Patel and Jyoti Singh that the fund was set up as a public charitable trust, and not created by or under the Constitution of India.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Amit Bansal has fixed the matter for further hearing on September 27. “To ensure transparency, the audited report is put on the official website of the trust along with the details of utilisation of funds received by the trust,” says the affidavit filed by Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, Under Secretary at the PMO.
“I state that when the petitioner is claiming to be a public-spirited person and seeking to pray for various reliefs only for transparency, it does not matter whether PM CARES is a ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India,” the officer said in the affidavit. Irrespective of whether the trust is a ‘State’ or other authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution or whether it is a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of provisions of the RTI Act, “it is not permissible to disclose third party information”, it added.

It said that all donations received by the trust are received via online payments, cheques or Demand Drafts and the amount received is audited with the audited report and the expenditure of the trust fund displayed on the website. “The trust functions on the principles of transparency and public good in larger public interest like any other charitable trust and, therefore, cannot have any objection in uploading all its resolutions on its website to ensure transparency,” it said, while reiterating that “the trust’s fund is not a fund of Government of India and the amount does not go in the Consolidated Fund of India.”
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the Centre, while opposing the pleas, told the court that the fund was neither intended to be or owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Union government, any state government, or any instrumentality of any government. “PM CARES Fund comprises voluntary donations made by individuals and institutions and is not a part of business or function of the central government in any manner. PM CARES Fund is not a part of any government scheme or business of the central government and being a public trust, it is also not subject to audit of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG),” it stated.
“…that PM CARES Fund is not a “public authority” under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and therefore the present petition is liable to be dismissed,” the Centre said in its affidavit submitted on September 14, 2020, adding, there is no control of either the central government or any state government/s, either direct or indirect, in functioning of the Trust in any manner whatsoever,” it added.

 

(With Media Reports).

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