When the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the setting up of a fund to deal with the unprecedented crisis. As he explained via Twitter, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund had been constituted respecting the desire of people to donate to India’s war against COVID-19.
As the PM-CARES fund website reiterates, this is a "public charitable trust" with the Prime Minister as the ex-officio Chairman and several other Union Ministers as ex-officio Trustees. The Trustees of the PM CARES Fund have powers to formulate rules or criteria for carrying out any of the Objectives of the Trust.
Over the last year, the fund has been mired in controversy over a lack of transparency. 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. Officials have said that the PM CARES Fund will audited by an independent auditor, and the trustees had chosen M/s SARC & Associates, Chartered Accountants, New Delhi as the auditors for 3 years.
With limited information available about how the fund is run, political opponents have lashed out at the BJP alleging foul play. The situation is not helped by the fact that RTI requests pertaining to the fund have been blocked in the past. "PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005," an RTI applicant had been told earlier this year.
Activist Saket Gokhale took to Twitter on Monday stating that when his request to the Central Information Commission seeking clarity on whether the fund is a public authority had been forwarded to the Prime Minister's office.
"I'd asked them whether PM CARES is a 'public authority' that comes under RTI. Bizarrely, they forwarded my request to PMO saying: you decide," he tweeted.
Gokhale also shared a copy of the document where the RTI cell explains that it was transferring the application to the PMO "as the subject matter pertains to you".