On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Central Government in a PIL seeking transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), to help the fight against the novel coronavirus. The court further asked the Centre to reply with an affidavit within four weeks.
The bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul, and MR Shah was hearing a plea by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which claimed that in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic, NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities, and establishing the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the Disaster Management Act.
PM CARES – an acronym for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations was announced by PM Modi in March given the ongoing crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a fund set up by the Centre with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “Any kind of emergency or distress situation”.
However, the plea contended that the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities, despite the looming health crisis, and that the setting up of the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the DM Act. The plea further sought for setting up a National Plan under Section 11, read with Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, to deal with the current pandemic and, to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of DMA.
The Centre for Public Interest Litigation further questioned the transparency of the PM CARES Fund, given that it is not subject to audits by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The petitioner also pointed out that the fund has been declared to be outside the purview of the Right to Information Act, not being a “public authority”.
Advocate Dushyant Dave, arguing for the petitioner, said that the plea was not against the government but was merely seeking its assistance. “The mandate has been completely overlooked by the government,” he argued. “The nation is suffering. Immediate intervention of the Supreme Court is required.”
In response, Justice Ashok Bhushan said that the questions of the National Plan and a minimum standard of relief under the Disaster Management Act had already been taken up and argued in the suo moto matter regarding the plight of migrant workers. He said the prayer to transfer PM CARES to the National Disaster Relief Fund could be tagged along with the suo moto case.
However, Dave insisted that the matter be heard separately. Justice Kaul said it was difficult for the court to pass orders at this stage, but notice could be issued. Subsequently, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the center and listed the matter for hearing after four weeks.