According to the Delhi High Court, the PM CARES Fund is not a Government of India fund, and the money it collects does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India.
According to an affidavit filed by an Under Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who is serving on an honorary basis in the PM Cares Trust, the trust operates with transparency and its funds are audited by an auditor – a chartered accountant drawn from a panel prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The affidavit was filed in response to a petition requesting that the PM CARES Fund be declared a “State” under the Constitution in order to ensure transparency in its operations.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Amit Bansal has scheduled a hearing for September 27.
“To ensure transparency, the audited report is posted on the trust’s official website, along with details of the trust’s use of funds received,” states the affidavit filed by Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, Under Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I state that when the petitioner claims to be a public-spirited person and seeks various reliefs only for transparency, it makes no difference whether PM Cares is a ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 of the Indian Constitution,” the officer said in the affidavit.
It is not permissible to disclose third-party information whether the trust is a ‘State’ or other authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution or a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of the provisions of the Right to Information Act (RTI), it added.
It stated that all donations received by the trust are received through online payments, cheques, or Demand Drafts, and the amount received is audited with the audited report and trust fund expenditure displayed on the website.
The trust, like any other charitable trust, operates on the principles of transparency and public good in the larger public interest and, as such, cannot object to posting all of its resolutions on its website to ensure transparency,” it said, while emphasising that “the trust’s fund is not a fund of the Government of India and the amount does not go into the Consolidated Fund of India.”
The officer stated that he is serving on an honorary basis in the PM Cares Trust, which is a charitable trust not established by or under the Constitution, any law passed by Parliament, or any State legislature.
“Despite being a Central Government officer, I am permitted to discharge my functions in PM Care Trust on an honorary basis,” he explained.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Samyak Gangwal, who claimed that the PM CARES Fund is a ‘State’ because it was established by the Prime Minister on March 27, 2020 to assist citizens of India in the aftermath of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
His counsel had told the court that if it is determined that the PM CARES Fund is not a ‘State’ under the Constitution, use of the domain name ‘gov,’ the Prime Minister’s photograph, state emblem, and so on must be discontinued.
According to the petition, the Trustees of the fund are the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Home Minister, and Finance Minister, and immediately after the fund’s formation, the Centre represented that the fund was set up and operated by the Government of India through its high government functionaries.
To ensure transparency and accountability, the petition has requested that the PM CARES website be audited on a regular basis and that the details of donations received be disclosed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the PMO, had objected to the petition, stating that it was unconstitutional and that he would file a response explaining why it should not be heard.