The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre on a plea which sought that contributions made to the PM CARES Fund, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, should be credited to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) instead.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) alleged that the Centre has been “refraining from divulging information about the specific utilisation of crores of rupees that have been contributed to the PM CARES Fund till date.”
The PIL also sought a direction for the Central Government to prepare, notify and implement a national plan under the Disaster Management Act in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PIL was filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). The NGO sought a direction that all the contributions till date in the PM CARES Fund “may be directed to be transferred” to the NDRF. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah issued a notice to the Centre and sought its response within two weeks.
The plea, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, has also sought a direction to the Centre to utilise the NDRF for the purpose of providing assistance in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, in compliance with the Disaster Management Act. Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave represented the petitioner in the virtual hearing.
The PIL has also sought a direction that the Centre lays down minimum standards of relief under the Disaster Management Act, to be provided to persons affected by the novel corona virus as well as by the lockdown.
"Section 11 of the DM Act makes it mandatory for a national plan to be drawn up for disaster management for whole of the country but currently, there is no such national plan in place to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic even though the same has been notified as a ‘disaster’ and numerous notifications are being issued to contain the same under the DM Act," the plea said.
It said that the national plan needs to be prepared after due consultation with state governments as well as experts. The plea added that while it was understandable that ad-hoc and emergent orders would be issued in light of the largely unpredictable crisis, but after over two months since the lockdown was imposed, it said that there is a need for a robust national plan.
“There cannot be continuous arbitrariness in the decision making process in dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic and resultantly putting a disproportionate burden on the poor and other marginal sections of the society as the same is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of lndia (sic),” the plea said.
The petition added that the latest national plan uploaded on the website of the National Disaster Management Authority is from 2019. It mentioned that the plan does not comprehensively deal with situations arising out of the current pandemic, and that there was no mention of measures like lockdown, containment zones, social distancing and the like, in it.
“There needs to be in place a national plan which would provide proper and detailed mechanism for any future lockdown measures, detailed coordination mechanism between Centre and states, social distancing norms keeping in mind the predicaments of the lower strata of society, least disruption of public transports and essential activities, large scale ramping up of quarantine facilities along with rapid manufacturing of testing and PPE kits and all this needs to be done transparently,” the plea added.