By Anonymous

(20/05/2020 20:00 IST)

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, various countries across the globe have started to rush into action, in order to soften the economic blow of this widespread disease.

India too, in a number of such measures, introduced economic aids, stimulus packages, and what not? In between these maneuvers, came a relief fund, by the name of PM CARES fund. The clever naming scheme of this fund just scratches the surface of what hides beneath.

Launched on March 28, 2020, the fund promised to “be used for combating, containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic like situations in the future.”

At first glance, PM CARES fund seems to be a dedicated relief fund. But, does not India already have a fund with similar objectives? As it turns out, India already has the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), which was set up in January 1948. Originally set up for the assistance of Partition refugees, the PMNRF evolved to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed in natural calamities and the victims of major accidents and riots and support medical expenses for acid attack victims and others. Along with PMNRF, there are Chief Minister’s Relief Funds, and states are concerned that the funds they require to reduce their burden would branch off to a bunch of different funds.

Apart from its very purpose, there are numerous inherent flaws within this fund. Firstly, there is no transparency in its workings. There are no public records as to where the donations come from, (aside from self-endorsements by high-profile industrial groups, movie stars and government departments) and where the money is being spent. Secondly, the fund will not be audited by the CAG- Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Another point of concern, as aforementioned, is that government departments are contributing to this fund. While it may seem normal and even beneficial at first, but government departments contributing funds to a government fund is like taking money from your wallet and putting it back into your own pocket! Thirdly, the fund allows corporate donations to be counted as CSR- Corporate Social Responsibility expenditure. This goes against the norm that CSR should not be used to fund government schemes. Even the PMNRF and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund were not allowed to accept corporate donations as CSR expenditure. Fourthly, the donations come from companies and government departments, like Reliance, which have made major donations to PM CARES even while cutting salaries of their own employees, as well as the Railways, which donated ₹151 crores to PM CARES, but could not provide free transport for destitute migrant workers.

Opposition parties are lashing the fund for its sketchy objectives and are demanding the money in the fund to be prioritized according to the requirements of the states and issues that demand immediate response, like the migrant exodus or the PPE kit shortage for the frontline workers.

Recently, an allocation of nearly ₹3,100 crores was made to “fight against COVID-19”. The question that arises here, is that what is the total collection of the PM CARES fund? Why is the government not disclosing these details? Congress veteran and former finance minister P Chidambaram has attacked the 1000 crore rupees allocation for migrant workers, saying that, “The money will not be given to the migrant workers but to the State governments to meet the expenses of travel, accommodation, medicine and food for the migrant workers. But nothing will go to the hands of the migrant workers.”

A plea has been made by advocate Arvind Waghmare in the Bombay High Court, which seeks the government to declare the amount received and spent by the PM CARES fund.

The petition seeks the declaration to be made on the government’s official website periodically. “In order to fortify and strengthen the general public’s faith and confidence, it is necessary to issue a direction to the government to declare the funds collected by PM CARES trust till date and how the same have been used for the benefits of citizens affected by coronavirus,” the petition said.

It remains to be seen whether the PM CARES fund will be kept in the dark, or it would come to transparency. Will it care for the public, the frontline workers, and the desperate migrants, those in need? Or will it just be another political fiasco, which will be brushed under the carpet that no one cares about?


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