Plea claiming PM-CARES Fund as public authority non maintainable: PMO to HC

New Delhi, June 10 (IANS) The Prime Minister’s Office has opposed on the basis of maintainability, a petition filed before the Delhi High Court seeking to declare the PM-CARES Fund as a “public authority”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the PMO raised questions on the maintainability of the petition and has also sought the court’s permission to file an affidavit in response to the same.

After hearing the matter, a single judge bench of the court presided by Justice Navin Chawala has posted the matter for hearing on August 28.

Petitioner Samyak Gangwal approached the high court challenging the order of Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) whereby it had refused to provide some documents relating to the PM-CARES Fund stating that the same is not a “public authority”.

The petition, filed through advocates Debopriyo Moulik and Ayush Shrivastava, said as a measure to combat COVID-19 pandemic, the PMO on March 28, through a press note announced the creation of a public charitable trust by the name of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund).

In the press release, the PMO appealed to the citizens of the country to generously donate to the PM-CARES Fund in light of severe health and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, it said, adding that the donations in the fund would qualify as CSR and exemption from tax.

“The registration of PM-CARES Fund for purposes of income tax exemptions, obtaining PAN, forming a public charitable trust and entrusting the management to the highest functionaries of the Government, in itself qualifies as ‘order made by the appropriate government. The act of the Government in granting tax exemptions to the PM-CARES Fund under the Income Tax promulgating The Taxation and Other Laws Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 qualifies as ‘order made by the appropriate government,” the plea said.

The plea further stated that the said fund is a body owned or controlled by the appropriate government as its trustees include the Prime Minister, ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance.

Meanwhile, a division bench of the high court presided by Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan dismissed a similar petition filed by advocate Dr. S.S. Hooda seeking direction to the PM-CARES Fund to divulge information under the RTI Act as it is a public authority and asked for details of money received and utilised.

The plea said that it was clear from the facts and circumstances pertaining to the constitution, administration, location, donations from government bodies that PM-CARES is both controlled and substantially financed by the Government and in the least is controlled by the Government

“Therefore, the citizens of the country have a right to be informed about the management of such a large corpus of Rs 10,000 crore which has been collected from government undertakings, ministries, departments as well as contributed by private individuals and corporations upon appeal made by the Hon’ble Prime Minister and under the faith that such donations would be used for the intents and purposes for which the donations have been made,” the plea said.

“The reluctance of the trustees of the fund in divulging information as to the management of the fund raises a profoundly serious apprehension since the fund has been set up to fight Covid-19 which is a public cause. It is further unfathomable as to why such secrecy is desired when the website of the fund clearly states that all persons engaged in the management of the fund are working on a pro bono capacity and shall have no personal interest in the fund,” it submitted.

The PM-CARES was formed on March 27 this year, three days into the lockdown, and is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Other ex-officio members of the trust are Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.



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