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PM CARES Fund Not A ‘Public Authority’ Under RTI Act

Topics Covered: Separation of Powers between various organs Dispute Redressal Mechanisms and Institutions.

PM CARES Fund Not A ‘Public Authority’ Under RTI Act

What to study?

For Prelims: Features of PM CARES fund, about RTI, what is a public authority?

For Mains: Implications of this verdict, need for reconsideration and concerns associated.

Context: Stating that PM CARES FUNDS (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund ) is not a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Prime Minister’s Office(PMO) has refused to divulge information sought in an application filed under the RTI Act.

What is ‘public authority’ under RTI?

As per Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, “public authority” is means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted:

  1. by or under the Constitution;
  2. by any other law made by Parliament;
  3. by any other law made by State Legislature;
  4. by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government.

The definition of ‘public authority’ also includes bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government and non-governmental organizations substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.

Implications of this move:

  • For a trust which is created and run by 4 cabinet ministers in their ex-officio capacities, denying the status of ‘public authority’ is a big blow to transparency and not to mention our democratic values.
  • The name, composition of the trust, control, usage of emblem, government domain name everything signifies that it is a public authority. By simply ruling that it’s not a public authority and denying the application of RTI Act, the Government has constructed walls of secrecy around it. 

What is PM CARES fund?

The PM CARES Fund was created on 28 March 2020, “with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It is a “public charitable trust”.

Who administers the fund?

Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance, Government of India are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.

Why it should be monitored?

Reports suggest that PM CARES has already received contributions in excess of Rs. 10,000 crores. It amassed a staggering Rs. 6,500 crores in its very first week with donations from large corporate houses and celebrities.

What’s government‘s argument?

The argument against conferring PM CARES the status of a “public account” seems to be that it is a fund based on voluntary contributions of individuals and organisations, and as such, beyond the full-fledged scrutiny of the CAG.

Need of the hour:

The very purpose of having a separate public account of India under Article 266(2), as against the Consolidated Fund of India [Article 266(1)] and the Contingency Fund of India (Article 267), is to cover receipts that do not fall in either of these two funds.

Similarly, since PM CARES conforms to being a “public account” and as vast sums of money have been collected manifestly at the behest of the government of India, allowing the CAG to audit it will be a step in the direction of transparency and instil public confidence in the Fund.

What the Constitution of India says?

Under Article 266(2) of the Constitution, “public moneys received by or on behalf of the Government of India”, which is not on account of revenue from taxes, duties, repayment of loans and the like should be credited to the Public Account of India.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Articles 266 vs 267.
  2. What is a public account?
  3. Who administers PM CARES fund?
  4. Which organisations are exempted from the ambit of RTI act?
  5. What is Consolidated fund of India?

Mains Link:

Discuss why PM CARES fund should be brought within the ambit of RTI act?

Sources: the Hindu.