Coronavirus | PM CARES is not a public authority under RTI Act: PMO

Fund is not public authority, says reply

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has refused to disclose details on the creation and operation of the PM CARES Fund, telling a Right to Information applicant that the fund is “not a public authority” under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005.

The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was set to accept donations and provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other similar emergencies.

A few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of the Fund on his Twitter account on March 28, Sri Harsha Kandukuri filed an RTI application on April 1, asking the PMO to provide the Fund’s trust deed and all government orders, notifications and circulars relating to its creation and operation.

“When we already have the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), having another fund did not make sense to me. I was curious about the composition and objectives of the Trust. I wanted to read the trust deed,” says Mr. Kandukuri, who is a law student at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.

When he did not receive any response within 30 days, he appealed. Finally, he received a response from the PMO’s information officer dated May 29.

“PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Secon 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of PM CARES Fund may be seen on the Website,” the reply said.

The relevant section of the Act defines a “public authority” as “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted — (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government — and includes any (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non‑Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.”

Mr. Kandukuri now plans to appeal further. “The name, composition of the trust, control, usage of emblem, government domain name — everything signifies that it is a public authority,” he said, pointing out that the PM is the ex-officio chairman of the Trust, while three cabinet ministers are ex-officio trustees. “The composition of the trust is enough to show that Government exercises substantive control over the trust, making it a public authority,” he said.

Another RTI request on the issue, filed by activist Vikrant Togad, had also been refused in April, with the PMO citing a Supreme Court observation that “indiscriminate and impractical demands under RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information would be counterproductive”.

There is also ambiguity regarding whether the PMNRF (Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund) is subject to the RTI Act. While the Central Information Commission directed it to disclose information in 2008, a division bench of the Delhi High Court gave a split opinion on the question of whether PMNRF is a public authority under the Act.

With inputs from The Hindu