100+ former civil servants have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising concerns about the PM CARES Fund’s transparency.
Signatories of the letter include former IAS officers Anita Agnihotri, S P Ambrose, Sharad Behar, Sajjad Hassan, Harsh Mander, P Joy Oommen, Aruna Roy, former diplomats Madhu Bhaduri, K P Fabian, Deb Mukharji, Sujatha Singh and former IPS officers A S Dulat, P G J Nampoothiri and Julio Ribeiro among others.
The group of former bureaucrats said it was necessary that the particulars of financial details of receipts and expenditures should be made public for reasons of probity and adherence to standards of public accountability to avoid doubts of wrongdoing.
“We have been keenly following the ongoing debate about the Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations, or ‘PM-CARES’ a fund created for the benefit of people affected by the COVID pandemic.
Both the purpose for which it has been created as well as the way it has been administered have left a number of questions unanswered,” they said in the letter.
In the letter, the group wondered why the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister were trustees of the fund in their official capacity instead of as private citizens if the fund was not a public authority, as per media reports carried by multiple media outlets.
The group mentioned that the immediate cause for the letter was the government’s refusal to divulge details under RTI “on the grounds that the PM Cares Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005”.
The civil servants said that the “clear absence of transparency” in every aspect of the Fund, was “disturbing” as states governments handling the challenges of the pandemic “were, and continue to be, sorely in need of financial assistance”.
The former bureaucrats asked if the donations to PM-CARES fund should be eligible as Corporate Social Responsibility expenditure if it was a private trust.
The letter cited a March 2020 government circular clarifying that contributions to the fund will qualify as CSR expenditure.
The letter added that the donations could not be “legitimate CSR expenditure” had it not been set up by the Centre.
“The question that then arises is whether the circular of 28 March, 2020, is legally deficient, more particularly when the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issues a gazette notification on 26 May, 2020, to include this fund in Schedule VII under Section 135 of the Companies Act as eligible to receive CSR funds with retrospective effect from 28 March 2020,” it said, adding that the PM-CARES entry came after “Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)” in the Schedule.
“Why was the new fund necessary when the nation already had a fund for national relief?” the former bureaucrats asked.
The group also raised questions on the huge amount of funds coming from the public sector when the trust deed of PM-CARES says that it is not “controlled or substantially financed by any government or any instrumentality of the government”.
The bureaucrats asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged embassies to seek funds from abroad.
“Most certainly, the fact that you and other senior Ministers of Government handling sensitive portfolios are trustees would ensure a substantial flow of funds,” it said. “Also, contributions are being solicited by government officials from private citizens.”
The letter cited the then secretary of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs seeking contributions from the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
The group said that the Supreme Court in its 2019 ruling had said that trusts, societies and non-government organisations that get “substantial government financing” would be treated as “public authorities” under the RTI Act.
It said that the fund received “substantial government funding” evident from the wages of employees of public companies, including that of defence forces, and other government and semi-government organisations.
“It is essential that the position and stature of the Prime Minister is kept intact by ensuring total transparency in all dealings the Prime Minister is associated with,” the letter said.
Input Feed : Syndicate Agency