Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation or PM CARES for short is a fund created by Prime Minister Modi, specifically to tackle the spread of the coronavirus in India. According to the official website of the Prime Minister, the PM CARES fund is a public charity trust which receives funds from the public and these funds would be used to procure the necessary materials such as PPE and also providing immediate relief to victims.
What makes the fund special is that the fund allows for micro donations to be accepted starting from as low as Rs. 10 and it also allows for funding to be received from international entities, something which no fund has ever allowed. The donations made to the fund are 100% tax deductible under the Income Tax Act(Section 80 g). The fund is managed by a board of trustees which consists of the Prime Minister as the chairperson along with the various ministerial heads along with experts in various fields. The fund despite of its noble intentions has faced criticism. Why? Well because we already have a fund established for the very same purpose of providing relief at times of a disaster and that is the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund(PMNRF).
The PMNRF was established to provide relief at times of a natural disaster and just like the PM CARES fund works on public donations and is not provided any budgetary support. The fund accepts donations from individuals or organisations and the donations are all tax exempted under the Income Tax Act Section 80 G. What makes the fund different is that the PMNRF does not allow micro donations of less than Rs. 100 and also does not accept donations from foreign entities. The boards that control the two funds too have stark differences. The PM CARES fund has a board of trustees consisting of the PM as the chairman, the Union ministers of Home Affairs, Defence and Finance, and experts from various related fields. The PMNRF on the other hand includes the PM along with the President of Indian National Congress, representative of the Tata Trust and a representative of a private sector company nominated by the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
The creation of the new fund has been justified on the basis that the coronavirus needs special attention and creating a separate fund would also encourage people to donate to this fund as the pandemic is something that the general public is affected by. Making it a publicly funded charity does not make it reliant on the consolidated fund of India, removing the control of the legislature in the matter.
Prominent politicians have criticised the fund for its shortfalls. Shashi Tharoor calls the fund “opaque” and the rationale behind the same is rather justified. The fund unlike the PMNRF is not mentioned on the official website of the Prime Minister. The PMNRF’s detailed accounts are provided for on the page but the PM CARES does not have this section apart from a mere FAQ section.
Despite of the fund being more democratic than the PMNRF, where the discretion lay solely in the hands of the Prime Minister, the PM CARES fund does not have place for the President of the Indian National Congress that the PMNRF had. The lack of scrutiny from public or the opposition has been the main worry for the critics of the fund.
Sonia Gandhi in her letter to the Prime Minister wrote to suggest moving the funds from PM CARES fund to the PMNRF in order to ensure accountability and transparency. This seems like a fair suggestion as even if there is a member of opposition on the board, discretion lies solely in the hands of the Prime Minister and the presence of opposition would be reduced to and observer.
The fund seems inherently opaque, however what needs to be appreciated is the success of the fund. The fund has collected over Rs. 6,500 crores and still counting with the most prominent personalities in the country donating towards the fund. It only lies in the hands of the government to ensure it’s proper utilisation.
Tags : PM CARES, COVID-19, PMNRF