Controversy over the newly formed PM-CARES Fund refuses to die down. Formed soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, according to its official website, PM-CARES is a registered "public charitable trust" that aims to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, such as the pandemic.
The critics, however, alleged that there is lack of transparency around the fund.
So far, an amount of Rs. 3100 crore has been allocated from it. However, there is no concrete data on exactly how much money has been collected as a whole. Some have made independent calculations to suggest that it had crossed the $1.4 billion mark in less than two months after its launch at the end of March. RTI queries have also been blocked, with an applicant being told earlier this year that the Fund was "not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005".
The lack of clarity has prompted many a rejoinder from Opposition leaders. On Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter, launching a fresh salvo at the fund led by the PM.
"PM Cares- 'Chaliye, transparency ko vanakkam'!" tweeted Gandhi sharing a news article. According to the report which quotes an NDTV article, there are contradictions when it comes to the fund's documents.
The current debate centres around whether PM-CARES is a government fund or a private entity. While RTI applicants have been told otherwise in the past, many Opposition leaders have raised questions as to why payments to a private entity would permit exemptions under the Income Tax Act and how the fund could receive corporate donations.
"The title deed of PM CARES says it was not created under the Constitution, any State or Central law, or even a Gazette notification. It says it isn’t under control of the govt. Why then are PMO officials managing this fund on taxpayer salary?" asked activist Saket Gokhale.
In an article on Wednesday, NDTV highlighted some contradictory information. According to the report, there is a strange duality to the fund. The fact that it is defined as a government trust makes it able to take in corporate donations. At the same time, a clause in the documents dubs it a private entity, thus making it exempt from RTI scrutiny.
An RTI query by activist Anjali Bhardwaj reveals further contradictory details. A day after its registration, the Fund was made eligible to receive corporate donations after the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued an office memorandum for the same. However, it would seem that this Memorandum had defined PM-CARES as a "fund set up by the central government" - unlike the original trust deed that said it was not government run.