New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s appeal to all employees of his ministries to contribute a day’s salary to PM CARES — a dedicated national fund to deal with any kind of emergency like Covid-19 — might be the need of the hour, but it is causing a lot of heartburn among administration officials.
Officials across several ministries ThePrint spoke to said that although the contributions are supposed to be voluntary and one can opt out, but the repeated reminders — subtle and at times not so subtle — from their seniors, asking them to contribute, is leaving them with no choice but to donate.
The latest circular issued by the Department of Revenue, which comes under the finance ministry, Friday, appealing to all officers and staff to “contribute their one day’s salary every month till March 2021 to the PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund to aid the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic” has added to the resentment of the employees.
The circular, seen by ThePrint, also stated: “Any officer or staff having objection to it may intimate drawing and disbursing officer, Department of Revenue in writing mentioning his/her employee code latest by 20.4.2020.”
A government official, who did not want to be identified, told ThePrint: “I know it’s a pandemic of a scale we have never seen. And massive funds are required. But asking employees to contribute a day’s salary every month till a year? Also, I might want to contribute to some other charity organisation working in Delhi or elsewhere. Why do I have to contribute only to PM CARES?”
Ministries, which are yet to contribute, have also reached out to their staff with an appeal to contribute a day’s salary (for the month of April) to the PM CARES Fund, after they received a fresh direction from the cabinet secretariat in this regard earlier this week.
Another government official, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that while it’s a normal practice to ask government staff to contribute after some calamity, the circular asking to contribute a day’s salary every month for a year, specifically to PM CARES Fund, is “unprecedented.”
“For the IAS and other senior officers it might not be a big deal. But it is not the same for junior staff. Though the circular says the donations are voluntary but which employee will risk being identified as someone who has not contributed,” said an official in one of the infrastructure ministries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the setting up of the PM CARES Fund on 28 March to invite donations from citizens to tackle the pandemic.
ThePrint had reported on 4 April that donations to the fund from individuals, celebrities, public and private organisations, corporates, public sector undertakings, among others, had crossed over Rs 6,500 crore.
In some ministries, like the railways, senior officers of the rank of principal financial advisers have been directed to monitor who all are contributing.
“Though the official circular says contributions are voluntary, senior officers are telling their subordinates to contribute,” said a railway ministry official.
The Railway Board also issued a circular on 31 March, stating: “… board (Railway Board) desires that an appeal should be made to each one of the railway servants to generously contribute to PMCF (PM CARES FUND) by donating at least one day’s basic pay towards this cause.”
This is not all.
An official in one of the social sector ministries said that employees are even getting messages on WhatsApp in their respective ministry’s group, reminding them to contribute to the fund.
“There is a kind of persistence, asking employees to contribute,” the official added.
Sources said that several ministries, including skill, human resource development, shipping, information and broadcasting, and housing, have already completed the process of donating to the fund.
PM Modi is the ex-officio chairman of the fund, which has been set up as a trust.
The other three trustees are the ministers of defence, home and finance. The trust will also have three eminent people from the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy — all of them will be nominated by the PM.
All ministers in Modi cabinet donated
The setting up of the fund has come under a lot of flak from the opposition Congress, which has questioned the need to set it up when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is already in place.
Earlier this month, PM Modi, all MPs, ministers and even the President decided to take a 30 per cent pay cut for a year, starting 1 April, to help the government handle the pandemic.
Almost all ministers in the Modi cabinet have already contributed to the fund.
Besides, 339 MPs from both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have contributed Rs 365 crore from their MPLADS to a central pool to tackle the outbreak, which is likely to go to PM CARES.
The MPLAD Fund has been suspended by the government earlier this month for two years (2020-2022).
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