(Dr EAS Sarma)
From PMO’s website, it is evident that PM CARES Fund has been set up under your chairmanship as a public charitable trust, “keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected“. I appreciate the underlying intention of setting up the fund.
Considering that the fund has been set up as a public charitable trust under the relevant statute and keeping in view the purpose of setting up the fund, especially the public interest aspect, it comes within the ambit of a “public authority” as defined in Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act. Those administering the fund are therefore required to comply strictly with the norms of transparency and public accountability envisaged in the Act.
In particular, Section 4 of the Act requires the administrator of the fund to disclose suo moto the details listed out elaborately in that section.
For example, Section 4(1) requires the fund administrator to disclose “the procedure followed in the decision-making process, including channels of supervision and accountability”, “details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form”, “publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public“.
Keeping this in view, I appeal to you to ensure that the following steps are taken urgently.
- At the website of PMO/PM CARES Fund, make a public-disclosure of all the documents that relate to the setting up of the fund as a public charitable trust
- Disclose the details of the donors and the amounts contributed from time to time
- Disclose the norms laid down for utilising the fund and the institutional arrangement for complying with the norms
- Disclose the details of the amounts utilised from time to time and the purposes for which they are utilised
Subject the operation of the fund to audit by Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) or to an auditor approved by CAG and make a public-disclosure of the quarterly reports of the operation of the fund.
Effective disaster management in a diverse country like ours is not possible unless the Centre takes the States along with it. Continuing consultation with the States and the public at large is therefore an essential requirement. PM CARES fund should not be viewed as an instrumentality to bypass the States. It should be deployed for supplementing the States’ efforts.
As far as the manner in which the fund is to be utilised, I have the following suggestions
- For providing immediate relief in the context of COVID19, the fund should be utilised for equipping the medical and the para-medical personnel, the sanitation workers and all other front line workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) conforming to WHO standards, providing health infrastructure including ventilators, testing facilities, medicines, isolation wards, hospital facilities and promoting R&D in the study of epidemics such as COVID19
- Abrupt nation-wide lockdown has dis-employed lakhs of marginal unorganised workers, vendors, artisans who are in urgent need for help and care, without compromising their dignity and their rights under the different social security laws. The fund should accord priority to providing them succour on a war footing and rehabilitating their lives.
- For building disaster management preparedness (contingency plans, communications, disaster management kits etc.) at different levels starting at the grass-root level of the Gram Panchayats upto the State headquarters
- Analysing the past disasters so as to draw lessons from the failures, if any, and preparing and updating disaster management plans for the future
I understand that there is a sizeable unspent amount lying in PM’s National Relief Fund. I suggest that a review be carried out on the reasons for such a large amount lying idle so that the same may not be allowed to happen in the case of PM CARES Fund. There is need to harmonise utilisation of the two funds.
Let me once again emphasise the need to ensure utmost transparency and public accountability in the operation of the fund.
(Text of the letter Dr Sarma, former GOI secretary, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi today)