Context: The Congress party has accused the government of lack of transparency and accountability in the PM CARES Fund and demanded that a public fund that receives donations of ₹5,000 crore should come under the ambit of RTI and show accountability.
About PM CARES Fund
- PM CARES Fund has been registered as a Public Charitable Trust under the Registration Act, 1908. Its primary objective is to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected.
- The Prime Minister of India is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund, and the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs, and Finance are its Trustees.
- The PM CARES Fund relies entirely on voluntary contributions from individuals and organizations and does not receive any financial support from the government’s budget.
- Contributions made to the PM CARES Fund are eligible for 100% income tax exemption under the Income Tax Act of 1961, encouraging people to donate for a good cause.
- Donations made to the PM CARES Fund can be counted as part of a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure under the Companies Act of 2013.
- The PM CARES Fund has received exemption under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), allowing it to receive donations and contributions from foreign individuals and organizations.
- This exemption is consistent with the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), which has been accepting foreign contributions as a public trust since 2011.
Objectives of PM CARES
- The primary goal of the PM CARES Fund is to support relief and rehabilitation efforts in times of crises, with a focus on providing essential resources and services to people in distress.
- The PM CARES Fund is authorized to provide relief and support in the event of a public health emergency or any other kind of emergency, whether caused by humans or nature.
- The Fund can support various initiatives such as upgrading healthcare or pharmaceutical facilities, providing necessary infrastructure, funding relevant research, or any other form of assistance.
Government’s response on audit of PM CARES Fund
- The Centre has informed that PM CARES Fund is set up as a public charitable trust and is not created under the Constitution or any law made by the Parliament or the state. Hence, it does not constitute a public authority under the provisions of the RTI Act
- The trust is not a public authority under Right to Information (RTI), and it accepts voluntary donations by individuals and institutions and any contributions flowing out of budgetary sources of government are not accepted.
- The government has clarified that the PM CARES Fund/Trust is independent of any government or its agencies. Although some holders of public office serve on the board of trustees, it is for administrative convenience only and does not confer ownership or control over the trust.
- Furthermore, the purpose of the PM CARES Fund/Trust is entirely charitable, and its funds are not used for any government projects. Therefore, the trust cannot be classified as a ‘public authority’ and is not governed by any government policies.
Right to Information:
- The Right to Information Act (RTI) of 2005 is a landmark law in India, aimed at combating corruption and ensuring accountability in governance.
- It grants citizens the power to access government documents and files and hold public officials accountable for their actions.
- The RTI Act is a crucial tool for promoting transparency and accountability in a democratic society, where the government is accountable to its citizens.
- In fact, the Supreme Court of India has held in the case of ‘Raj Narayan v/s Uttar Pradesh’ that the Right to Information is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. This reflects the importance of the right to information in a democratic society.
- However, there are certain organizations that are exempted from the purview of the RTI Act. These include intelligence agencies, the central economic intelligence bureau, research bodies working with the country’s security agencies, and paramilitary forces.
Success of RTI
- 2G Scam
- Coalgate Scam
Challenges of Right to Information:
- Low public awareness: Section 26 of the Act states that the appropriate Government may develop and organize educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, especially disadvantaged communities, regarding how to exercise the rights contemplated under the Act. However, information seeker survey revealed that only 15% of the respondents were aware of the RTI Act.
- Poor record management practices: Under Section 4(2), organizations have to maintain computerized records – but organizations are not doing it.
- Constraints faced in filing applications: Non-availability of User Guides for RTI implementation for information seekers, which was mandated under Section 26 of the RTI Act.
- Exemptions: Section 8(1) provides for exemptions to disclosure of info from Intelligence organizations, Judiciary, Cabinet papers, and matters concerning Foreign relations.
- Poor quality of information provided: During the information seeker survey, it was also highlighted than more than 75% of the citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of information being provided. The percentage of people who said that incomplete information was provided to them was alarmingly high in Andhra Pradesh – 91% and Uttar Pradesh – 96%.
- Lack of Information on certain accounts: During COVID pandemic when the government was asked about specific data on how many people lost their lives due to lack of oxygen, number of migrant workers who lost their jobs – government replied that it does not have such data.
- Failure to provide information within 30 days: During the study, more than 50% of the information seekers mentioned that it took more than 30 days to receive the information from the PIO.
- Information Commissions are becoming parking lots for retired bureaucrats.
- Vacancies: There is a huge backlog of vacancies in the information commission i.e., 24% of the information commissioners posts lying vacant in 28 states.
- Threat to RTI Activists: According to Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), 84 RTI activists have been murdered since 2005 for seeking information on illegal construction, alleged scams in social welfare schemes, and corruption in panchayats.
- Reduce pendency
- Fill up vacancies
- Protection to Whistle Blowers
- Bring Political Parties under RTI