Context: 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.
Argument put forward by RTI request
- As PM CARES includes the name, the composition of the trust, control, usage of the emblem, government domain name, it signifies that it is a public authority.
- The composition of the trust is especially enough to show that the government exercises substantive control over the trust, making it a public authority.
- PM is the ex-officio chairman of the Trust, while three cabinet ministers are ex-officio trustees in the PM CARES fund.
What constitutes Public Authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005?
- The relevant section of the Act defines a “public authority” as “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted —
- by or under the Constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by State Legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government
- It also includes
- any body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
- non‑Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
Is PMNRF subject to the RTI act?
- There is also ambiguity regarding whether the PMNRF (Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund) is subject to the RTI Act of 2005
- The Central Information Commission directed PMNRF to disclose information in 2008.
- However, 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.
- It is a PM-Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund set up to support the government in its fight against the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
- The fund consists entirely of voluntary contributions from individuals/organizations and does not get any budgetary support.
- Differences between Prime Minister's National Relief Fund and PM-CARES,
- Prime Minister's National Relief Fund is for all kinds of natural disasters, while the PM CARES fund is specially meant for COVID-19 similar pandemic situations.
- PM CARES is a donation-based fund and the legislative hurdles for withdrawal from the funds are absent.
- The PM CARES Fund tries to differentiate itself from PMNRF by enabling micro-donations. One can donate as low as Rs 10 in the PM CARES Fund, while the minimum one can donate in PM National Relief Fund is Rs 100.
- Benefits of donating in the fund:
- Donations have been made tax-exempt.
- Contributions towards PM CARES Fund will be an eligible expenditure under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations.
- Donations are also exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010
- It has been set up as a public charitable trust.
- Board of trustees: The Prime Minister chairs the fund in his official capacity, and can nominate three eminent persons in relevant fields to the Board of Trustees. The Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
Prime Minister's National Relief Fund
- It was set up in January 1948, originally to accept public contributions for the assistance of Partition refugees.
- It is now used to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed in natural calamities and the victims of major accidents and riots and support medical expenses for acid attack victims and others.
- The PMNRF was originally managed by a committee that included the Prime Minister and his deputy, the Finance Minister, the Congress President, a representative of the Tata Trustees, and an industry representative.
- However, in 1985, the committee entrusted the entire management of the fund to the Prime Minister, who currently has sole discretion for fund disbursal. A joint secretary in the PMO administers the fund on an honorary basis.
- The Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established entirely with public contributions and does not get any budgetary support.
- PMNRF accepts voluntary contributions from Individuals, Organizations, Trusts, Companies and Institutions etc.
- Benefits of donations:
- All contributions towards PMNRF are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G).