New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund is not a public authority according to the Right to Information Act, 2005 and not a “State” under Article 12 of the Constitution of India, but a “public charitable trust”.
A division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad was dealing with a plea moved by Samyak Gangwal, seeking a declaration of PM CARES Fund as “State” under the Constitution as it would attract consequential directions for disclosing the Fund’s audit reports periodically, disclosing the Fund’s quarterly details of donations received, utilisation thereof and resolutions on expenditure of donations.
The affidavit stated that the plea is based on “apprehensions and suppositions” and that a constitutional question should not be decided in a vacuum.
The affidavit filed by the Under Secretary of PMO to the court said: “This Trust is neither intended to be, nor is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any government nor any instrumentality of the government. There is no control of either the Central government or any state governments, either direct or indirect, in the functioning of the Trust in any manner whatsoever.”
According to the affidavit submitted, the PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust accepting only voluntary donations and is certainly not the Centre’s business. “PM CARES Fund does not receive funds or finances by the government,” it was mentioned.
However, counsel for petitioner Senior Advocate Shyam Divan said: “High functionaries of the government like the Vice President had requested the Rajya Sabha members to make donations” and that “the PM CARES Fund has been projected as a government fund”.
In response, the PMO argues: “The PM CARES Fund is administered on the pattern of Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) as both are chaired by the Prime Minister. Like the National Emblem and domain name ‘gov.in’ are being used for the PMNRF, the same are also being used for PM CARES Fund.”
The affidavit stated: “The composition of the Board of Trustees consisting of holders of public office ex officio – the Supreme Court, Union Home Minister, the Union Finance Minister, the former chairman of Tata Sons Ratan Tata, former Judge K.T. Thomas, and Former Deputy Speaker Kariya Mund” – is merely for administrative convenience and for smooth succession to the trusteeship and is neither intended to be nor in fact result into any governmental control in the functioning of the Trust in any manner whatsoever.”
Besides the declaration of PM CARES Fund as “State” under the Constitution, Gangwal has also sought that PM CARES Fund should be restrained from using “PM” in its names/ website, State Emblem, domain name “gov” in its website and PM’s Office as its official address.
On March 27, 2020, the trust deed of PM CARES Fund was registered as a Public Charitable Trust under the Registration Act, 1908 in New Delhi.
Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and providing relief to the affected, a public charitable trust under the name of PM CARES Fund was set up.