New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has told the Supreme Court that existence of the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) does not stop authorities from creating another fund like the PM CARES for voluntary donations.
An affidavit was submitted by the government Wednesday in response to a PIL filed by the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). CPIL, in its plea, has asked for all contributions to the PM CARES Fund be directly transferred to the NDRF.
The Supreme Court had sought the central government’s response to the petition last month.
“…there are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief words. PM Cares is one such fund with voluntary donations,” the government submitted Wednesday.
The PM CARES Fund was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28 March in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. By the end of May, the total donations received reportedly stood at Rs 10,000 crore.
CPIL has asserted that in “the face of a health crisis” the NDRF has not been utilised by the authorities and a separate fund, the PM CARES Fund, has been set up instead. This, it says, is in direct violation of the provisions under the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
But the government’s affidavit asserts: “It is submitted that there exists a fund stipulated under section 46 of the DMA which is called NDR Fund. However, mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit in creation of a different fund like PM CARES Fund which provides for voluntary donations.”
The PIL also complains against the “opaqueness” surrounding the PM CARES Fund, while pointing out that it is neither subject to a mandatory CAG audit nor amenable to the Right to Information Act.
‘Need to be as dynamic as the virus’
Raising objections on the filing of the PIL, the government’s affidavit also asks the top court to consider whether a permanent body, like CPIL, can be set up to file litigation on issues which it “subjectively considers to be of public interest”.
While the petition also called for setting up of a national plan under the DMA to deal with Covid-19, the central government submitted that a National Disaster Management Plan under section 11 of the Act is already in place.
This plan, it says, specifically deals with “biological and public health emergencies”.
It also lists various other plans issued by the health ministry, including the ‘cluster containment plan for Covid-19’ dated 2 March and the ‘containment plan for large outbreaks of Covid-19’ dated 4 April.
There are also other guidance documents issued by the health ministry for sample collection, management of bodies, disinfection of common public places etc, says the affidavit.
It asserts that a rigid set of guidelines cannot be laid down and says the “need of the hour is to remain as dynamic as the virus” in order to adopt a flexible as well as streamlined approach of dealing with the pandemic.