A Public Interest Litigation has been filed before the Delhi High Court seeking greater transparency in the PM CARES Fund by bringing it under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The plea also sought a direction to the Trustees of the PM CARES Fund to display on its website, the details of the money received and the purposes for which such amount has been utilized.
The petition was filed by Surender Singh Hooda, in the backdrop of a reply given by the PMO to an RTI application, stating that PM CARES FUNDS is not a ‘public authority’. The petitioner cited a recent newspaper reports of the PM CARES Fund refusing to divulge information sought by one Harsha Kundakarni under the RTI Act by claiming that the fund is not a ‘public authority’ within the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Subsequently, petitioner Hooda submitted that anybody that is ‘owned’, ‘controlled’, or ‘substantially financed’ by the Government qualifies a public authority under the RTI Act. He further asserts that in the present case, the PM CARES Fund is both controlled as well as substantially financed by the Government.
“The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES fund while the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are its ex-officio trustees. The Chairman and trustees of the fund further have the power to appoint three additional trustees. The Rules/criteria for spending the funds of the trust shall be formulated by the Prime Minister and the three ministers aforementioned,” stated the petition.
The PM CARES Fund was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28th March while urging all Indians to donate for the same to help the country fight COVID-19. The petitioner submits that “After two months, the total corpus of the fund stands at approximately ₹10,000 crores and the amount has been so collected by way of donations from the public at large, including donations from the Public Sector Undertakings, salaries of armed forces personnel, civil servants and members of the judicial entities, upon the strength of prestige lent by the office of the Hon’ble Prime Minister.”
Under such a circumstance, “The reluctance of the trustees of the fund in divulging information as to the management of the fundraises a profoundly serious apprehension since the fund has been set up to fight COVID-19 which a public cause,” read the petition.
“It is well known that sunlight is the best disinfectant and all the undesirable activities are done under the cover of darkness. Transparency is the bedrock of rule of law and opaqueness smells of ulterior motives or at least is indicative of feudal mindset and hawkish attitude, which is opposed to being fair, just and reasonable in public dealings,” reads the Petition.