New Delhi: Indians across sections — ordinary individuals, celebrities, government officials, private sector professionals and conglomerates — seem to be loosening their purse strings like never before in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Barely a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced setting up of the PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund on 28 March, donations pledged to it have crossed over Rs 6,500 crore, ThePrint has learnt.
This is three times more than the combined public donation of Rs 2,119 crore received in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) between 2014-15 and 2018-19, a perusal of the fund’s receipts and payment accounts show. The total expenditure from PMNRF during this period was Rs 1,594.87 crore.
The overall corpus of PMNRF, since it was established in 1948, stands at Rs 3,800 crore.
The PMNRF is used to provide immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones, earthquakes, victims of major accidents and riots. PM CARES, on the other hand, is a dedicated national fund to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like the Covid-19 outbreak.
While some of the bigger donations to PM CARES have come from India Inc. and government organisations, including Rs 1,500 crore by the Tata Group, Rs 1,000 crore by the Azim Premji Foundation, Rs 500 crore collectively by the Army, Navy and Air Force, defence PSUs and employees of defence ministry, there have also been innumerable smaller contributions by individuals too.
The minimum donation one can make in PMNRF is Rs 100 while PM CARES accepts micro donations as low as Rs 10. Both PMNRF and PM CARES are charitable public trust and can also accept foreign donations.
‘PM CARES should have a national character like PMNRF’
The PM CARES fund has come under a lot of flak from the Congress, which has questioned the need for its inception when the PMNRF is already there.
Set up by India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948, the PMNRF is managed by a committee consisting of the prime minister, president of Indian National Congress, the deputy prime minister, finance minister, a representative of the Tata Trust and another representative of industry to be chosen by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
The BJP has now blamed the Opposition for “politicising” the matter because the Congress president is not part of the PM CARES fund.
“These things (whether the Congress president is a member or not) does not matter. Somehow Congress ends up politicising everything. The party should instead tell what all they are doing to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. The PM has set up the fund to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in a very targeted way. That is the need of the hour instead of playing politics over it,” said BJP’s National Spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Khan.
But the Congress said the fund should have representation from other parties too since it was a national project.
“PM CARES has a very ad-hoc arrangement and that is what we are objecting to. It’s a national fund and has to have representation from other national parties as well as the states. It does not have to be Congress or any particular party,” senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily told ThePrint.
Moily also said PM CARES should be renamed as the “national fund”.
Soon after the fund was announced, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had also questioned the need for creating a separate public charitable trust whose rules and expenditure are “totally opaque”. He sought an explanation from PM Modi for this “highly unusual step”.
This is important. Why not simply rename PMNRF as PM-CARES, given the PM's penchant for catchy acronyms, instead of creating a separate Public Charitable Trust whose rules & expenditure are totally opaque? @PMOIndia you owe the country an explanation for this highly unusual step. https://t.co/qRhX0T1PmB
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 30, 2020
Senior government officials ThePrint spoke to said though anyone contributing to the PM CARES will get full benefits under the Income Tax Act just as it is in the case of PMNRF, the former is more broad based.
“Besides being used to provide relief during any public health emergency or natural calamity, funds from PM CARES can also be utilised to support research. For instance, in the present situation it can be used to fund relevant research related to Covid-19,” an official said on anonymity.
Unlike PMNRF, PM CARES can also be used for ramping up healthcare or pharmaceutical infrastructure in the country, the official added.
While PM Narendra Modi is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES, other trustees of the fund include the ministers of defence, home and finance.
The trust will also have three eminent persons in the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy — all of whom will be nominated by the PM.
These three trustees have not yet been nominated, multiple sources in the government told ThePrint.
MPs can contribute funds from MPLAD to PM CARES
PM CARES has also expanded the categories of donors who can contribute to it, said sources.
“For instance, Members of Parliament can make donations from MPLADS to the fund. So can PSUs. PMNRF does not allow any contributions where funds go from the government budget,” said a second source.
So far, 339 MPs from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have contributed Rs 365 crore from their MPLADS to a central pool to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, which is likely to go to the PM CARES.
However, there is no clarity on whether, like PMNRF, PM CARES will be kept out of the ambit of CAG audit. “One will have to see the rules for operationalising the funds. It’s not clear right now,” the second source quoted above added.