PIL in SC seeks transfer of PM CARES Fund contributions to National Disaster Response Fund

The plea says in the face of an unprecedented crisis that hit country, passing of ad hoc orders was understandable. But now there is a need for a robust National Plan under the Disaster Management Act

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

NH Web Desk

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre to transfer all contributions to the PM CARES Fund set up for COVID-19 relief to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), reports BarandBench.com.

The plea filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) also seeks the setting up of a National Plan under the Disaster Management Act (DM Act).

In line with Section 46(1)(b) of the DM Act, all present and future collections, contributions, and grants for the fight against COVID-19 should be credited towards the NDRF, the plea prays.

CPIL has also said that a National Plan under Sections 10 and 11 of the DM Act must be prepared, notified, and implemented to deal with the pandemic.

A minimum standard for relief to be provided for COVID-19 patients must also be laid down by the government in conformity with Section 12 of the DM Act, the PIL states. It is pointed out that India has assumed fourth position in terms of the most reported cases of COVID-19 in the world.

The plea says that in the face of an unprecedented crisis that hit the country, passing of ad hoc and emergent orders was understandable. But after over two months since the lockdown was imposed, there is a need for a robust National Plan, it is averred.

This National Plan needs to be formulated after due consultation with the states and must help towards detailed coordination between the Centre and the states at a time when the country is gradually opening up from a lockdown while also tackling the issue of consistently rising number of COVID-19 cases.

"The latest National Plan uploaded on the website of National Disaster Management Authority is of the year 2019 and the same doesn't comprehensively deal with situations arising out of the current pandemic and has no mention of measures like lockdown, containment zones, social distancing etc. in it,"the plea says.

CPIL avers that prominent Indian epidemiologists and experts in public health have criticised the handling of this pandemic by the Indian government and have also given significant recommendations to deal with the crisis. In light of the same, an expert body must be consulted for the Centre to draft a National Plan.

"The National Plan should provide inter alia proper and detailed mechanism for any future lockdown measures, detailed coordination mechanism between Centre and States, social distancing norms keeping in mind the predicaments of the lower strata of the society, least disruption of public transports and essential activities, large scale ramping up of quarantine facilities along with rapid manufacturing of testing and PPE kits and all this needs to be done transparently," it said.

Various aspects regarding the standard of relief provided in shelter homes and related aspects of relief work also need to be deliberated upon in formulation of the National Plan, the petitioner says.

Further, it is pointed out that in the face of a health crisis, the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities and a separate fund, the PM CARES fund, which is outside the ambit of the DM Act has been set up. This is in direct violation of the statutory provisions under the DM Act, the plea points out.

"It is pertinent to mention herein that Section 72 of the DM Act provides that the provisions of the DM Act, shall have effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the DM Act," the petition says.

The petitioner also raises the issue of opaqueness surrounding the PM CARES Fund, pointing out that it is not subject to a mandatory CAG audit and has been said to be outside the purview of the Right to Information Act.

Therefore, according to the petitioner, it is important that the contributions towards the fight against COVID-19 are made towards the NDRF henceforth and that the funds already collected under the PM CARES Fund be transferred to NDRF.

"While the acute and unforeseen challenge in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic is understandable, the statutory provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (the parent statute in fighting the instant crisis) are required to be followed both in letter and spirit," the petition says.

The petition is filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan.

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