New Delhi: Donations to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations or PM CARES Fund seem to have tapered off after the initial surge.
Launched on 28 March, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the fund received Rs 6,500 crore in its first week. However, by the third week of May, nearly two months later, the total donations received stood at Rs 10,000 crore, government officials told ThePrint.
“PM CARES has received approximately Rs 10,000 crore. We don’t have much details as the fund is administered directly by the Prime Minister’s Office,” a senior government official said.
The bulk of the contribution, the officials said, comes from corporates, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and central ministries and departments. The central public sector enterprises under the ministries of power and new and renewable energy had contributed Rs 925 crore by 3 April, while public sector oil companies including ONGC, IOC, Bharat Petroleum had contributed over Rs 1,000 crore by April.
The PSUs under the chemicals and fertilisers ministry had donated Rs 32 crore by 1 April. Employees of all major ports and PSUs under the shipping ministry had contributed Rs 52 crore by 6 April. Public sector banks and other financial institutions like LIC had together contributed Rs 430 crore to PM CARES until last month.
PM CARES, a charitable public trust, is a dedicated fund that seeks to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like the Covid-19 pandemic. It accepts micro donations as low as Rs 10, as well as foreign donations.
PM Narendra Modi is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES, and the other trustees include the ministers of defence, home and finance. The trust is also supposed to have as members three eminent persons from the fields of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy, but the PM is yet to nominate them. The fund has been kept out of the ambit of CAG audit.
PM CARES has been controversial since it was established, with critics primarily questioning why a second disaster fund was needed when India already had the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
There have also been calls to make the fund more transparent and open it up to audits in the absence of public information about its distribution.
For example, the government announced on 13 May that Rs 3,100 crore from PM CARES will be allocated for migrant workers, procuring ventilators and supporting vaccine development.
Of the Rs 3,100 crore, while Rs 2,000 crore is meant for procuring ventilators, Rs 1,000 crore has been earmarked for helping the migrant workers returning home. The remaining Rs 100 crore has been classified as vaccine development support. However, the exact nature of the disbursal is not known.
A second government officer told ThePrint that they did not have clarity on how the money is being disbursed since the fund is administered by the PMO. “We don’t have any idea about how the money is being utilised and how the allocation for migrants… is being used,” the officer said.
ThePrint reached V. Ravi Rama Krishna, the additional director general for Press Information Bureau, handling the PMO, with queries on the parameters used to disburse the Rs 3,100 crore allocation, but he did not respond to the WhatsApp message. A phone call to Krishna went unanswered too.
PM CARES and CSR
While the government had earlier said contributions to PM CARES will be eligible for classification as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs Tuesday issued a formal notification adding it to the list of CSR activities under the Companies Act.
Union cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba had last month appealed to government employees to contribute to PM CARES. Last month, the Department of Revenue issued a circular appealing to all officers and staff to contribute one day’s salary every month, until March 2021, to the fund to aid the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Almost all ministers in the Modi cabinet have already contributed to the fund.