No bar to create PM CARES Fund, meant to enable private and voluntary donations: Centre tells SC
The case pertains to a plea seeking transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund which was set up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)
The Central government has told the Supreme Court that there exists no prohibition on creation of PM CARES Fund as it is independent and distinct from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) which is stipulated under the Disaster Management Act, legal news website LiveLaw.in has reported.
"All funds other than the funds stipulated under section 46 of the DM Act, 2005 are separate, different and distinct, created separately under separate provisions," the Central government said.
In reply to the PIL filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which has sought transfer of funds from PMCARES Fund to NDRF for relief works in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre has taken the stand that the NDRF, as stipulated under Section 46 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA), consists of funds in the form of budgetary provisions made by the Central and state governments without any private contributions.
The PM CARES Fund on the other hand is one such fund which accepts voluntary donations as well, the Centre has contended.
"It is submitted that here are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works. PMCARES is one such fund with voluntary donations.... there exists a fund stipulated under section 46 of the DMA called the NDRF," it said.
The affidavit states that mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit creation of a different fund like PM CARES Fund which provides for voluntary donations.
When the matter came up for hearing on Thursday before a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul & MR Shah, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the detailed affidavit in reply has been filed and that a copy shall be supplied to parties, latest by tomorrow evening.
The instant case pertains to a plea seeking transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund which was set up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and setting up of a National Plan under Section 11, read with Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in order to deal with the current pandemic and, to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of DMA.
In light of this, Centre has also placed on record a National Plan formulated under Section 11 of the DMA which specifically deals with "Biological and Public Health Emergencies". The affidavit states that apart from the national plan, different states also have their respective Disaster Management Plans at the state Level in place.
"It is submitted that the national plan provides for a broad framework in order to enable national preparedness in case a disaster happens. It is submitted that a national plan does not and cannot contain step by step instructions or specific directions for the day to day managements by Government agencies in the situation of any particular and unforeseen disaster," it said.
The bench also allowed the petitioner to file a rejoinder to the affidavit. The matter will now be taken up on July 17.
On June 17, the top court had issued notice to the plea averring that, "Centre may be directed to utilize National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for the purpose of providing assistance in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in compliance with Section 46 of the DM Act, all the contributions/grants from individuals anf institutions shall be credited to the NDRF in terms of Section 46(1)(b) rather than to PM CARES Fund and all the funds collected in the PM Cares Fund till date may be directed to be transferred to the NDRF."
The plea further contends that the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities, despite the looming health crisis, and that the setting up of the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the DM Act. It further raises the issue of lack of transparency with regard to the PM Cares Fund, stating that it is not subject to CAG Audits and has also been proclaimed to be outside the purview of the RTI Act by not being under the definition of "public authority".