The Prime Minister’s Office of India has turned down a Right to Information request, which sought information on the newly constituted Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund). The PMO, according to the RTI reply, said that the PM CARES Fund was not a public authority.
The RTI request, according to Livelaw website, was filed by one Harsha Kandukuri, a student of Azim Premji University in Bangalore on 1 April. He had sought information on the constitution of the PM CARES Fund.
But, as reported by Livelaw website, the PMO rejected the request by saying, “PM CARES Fund is not a public authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of PM CARES Fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in.”
According to the RTI Act 2 (h), publicly authority means ‘any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted—
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.
The RTI Act adds that the definition of ‘public authority’ also means ‘body owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-Government organisation substantially financed.’
The RTI applicant was quoted by Livelaw as saying, “By denying PM CARES fund the status of ‘public authority’, it is only reasonable to infer that it is not controlled by the Government. If that is the case, who is controlling it?”
PM CARES Fund was established in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre’s Narendra Modi government has often faced criticism for not disclosing the amount the Fund has received through donations. Modi’s detractors have argued that there was no need to establish PM CARES Fund since India already had Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. They have accused Modi of trying to embezzle thousands of crores of rupees collected through the PM CARES Fund.
The Modi government has also refused to have the fund audited by the government auditor, the CAG. The Supreme Court has rejected at least two PILs that questioned the legality of the PM CARES Fund.