Bombay High Court asks Modi government to account for PM-CARES fund

The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Tuesday issued notices to all trustees of PM-CARES Fund and the Modi government asking them to submit details of the amount collected and utilisation of the funds.

The court was hearing a petition filed by a Nagpur-based lawyer, Arvind Waghmare, who sought the government to periodically declare the amount collected under the ‘PM-CARES Fund’ on government’s website for the knowledge of the common public. He also prayed for fund’s audit through the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) instead of an independent auditor to be nominated by a board of trustees.

The Union government counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, however, opposed the move and sought dismissal of the petition.

Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any national emergency or distress situation – like the one posed by the Covid-19 pandemic – and to provide relief to the affected, a public charitable trust ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund)’ was set up.

Additional solicitor General Singh informed a division bench of the court, comprising Justice SB Shukre and Justice AS Kilor, that the Supreme Court had in April dismissed a similar petition against the PM-CARES fund. The bench noted that the petition before it sought different reliefs, and directed the Union government to file an affidavit in response to the plea within two weeks. “File an affidavit stating whatever is your (Union government) stand,” the court said.

As per the plea, the PM-CARES Trust, with Prime Minister as its chairperson and ministers from departments of Defence, Home and Finance as its members, was created with the prime objective of dealing with the emergency or distress caused by the coronavirus. The trust was created seeking financial assistance from people from across the country and overseas to provide relief and assistance to those affected by Covid-19 pandemic, it said.

Waghmare contended that certain guidelines were issued while setting up the fund that specifically mentioned that apart from the ex-officio chairperson and ex-officio trustees, three more trustees will be appointed/nominated on the trust. However, three other trustees have not been appointed yet, but donations to the tune of crores of rupees are being accepted. The petitioner demanded that at least two members from the Opposition parties should be included in the trust.

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