EAS Sarma . Image Courtesy: Sakshi Post
New Delhi: Former Secretary to the Government of India, EAS Sarma, while appreciating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intent, has called for ensuring “utmost transparency and public accountability” in the operation of the PM CARES Fund, set up as a public charitable trust to attract donations to tackle the COVID-19 crisis raging across the country.
In a letter to Modi, the former civil servant, has urged the Prime Minister to make a public disclosure of all documents that relate to the setting up of the fund, details of all donors and the amount contributed, as well as bringing it under the purview of audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
On March 28, Modi had announced PM CARES Fund (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund) ’ with the "primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to affected. The PM himself will be heading the Trust, with members, including the Finance Minister, Home Minister and Defence Minister among others.
The move has invited a lot of criticism from Opposition parties and civil society organisations, who have questioned the government’s “motive” for floating another fund when the PM National Relief Fund already exists with a reported unspent corpus of Rs 3,800 crore.
Seeking utilisation of the fund for millions of those who have lost livelihoods because of the lockdown, Sarma said the fund should “accord priority to providing them succour on a war footing and rehabilitating their lives.”
Read the full letter below:
Shri Narendra Modiji
Prime Minister of India
Dear Shri Modiji,
From PMO's website, it is evident that PM CARES Fund has been set up under your chairmanship as a public charitable trust, "keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected". I appreciate the underlying intention of setting up the fund.
Considering that the fund has been set up as a public charitable trust under the relevant statute and keeping in view the purpose of setting up the fund, especially the public interest aspect, it comes within the ambit of a "public authority" as defined in Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act. Those administering the fund are therefore required to comply strictly with the norms of transparency and public accountability envisaged in the Act.
In particular, Section 4 of the Act requires the administrator of the fund to disclose suo moto the details listed out elaborately in that section.
For example, Section 4(1) requires the fund administrator to disclose "the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability”, “details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form”, “publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public".
Keeping this in view, I appeal to you to ensure that the following steps are taken urgently.
At the website of PMO/PM CARES Fund, make a public disclosure of all the documents that relate to the setting up of the fund as a public charitable trust
Disclose the details of the donors and the amounts contributed from time to time
Disclose the norms laid down for utilising the fund and the institutional arrangement for complying with the norms
Disclose the details of the amounts utilised from time to time and the purposes for which they are utilised
Subject the operation of the fund to audit by Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) or to an auditor approved by CAG and make a public disclosure of the quarterly reports of the operation of the fund
Effective disaster management in a diverse country like ours is not possible unless the Centre takes the States along with it. Continuing consultation with the States and the public at large is therefore an essential requirement. PM CARES fund should not be viewed as an instrumentality to bypass the States. It should be deployed for supplementing the States' efforts.
As far as the manner in which the fund is to be utilised, I have the following suggestions
For providing immediate relief in the context of COVID19, the fund should be utilised for equipping the medical and the para-medical personnel, the sanitation workers and all other front line workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) conforming to WHO standards, providing health infrastructure including ventilators, testing facilities, medicines, isolation wards, hospital facilities and promoting R&D in the study of epidemics such as COVID19
Abrupt nation-wide lockdown has dis-employed lakhs of marginal unorganised workers, vendors, artisans who are in urgent need for help and care, without compromising their dignity and their rights under the different social security laws. The fund should accord priority to providing them succour on a war footing and rehabilitating their lives.
For building disaster management preparedness (contingency plans, communications, disaster management kits etc.) at different levels starting at the grass-root level of the Gram Panchayats upto the State headquarters
Analysing the past disasters so as to draw lessons from the failures, if any, and preparing and updating disaster management plans for the future
I understand that there is a sizeable unspent amount lying in PM's National Relief Fund. I suggest that a review be carried out on the reasons for such a large amount lying idle so that the same may not be allowed to happen in the case of PM CARES Fund. There is need to harmonise utilisation of the two funds.
Let me once again emphasise the need to ensure utmost transparency and public accountability in the operation of the fund.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India.