PMO withholds information on inception of PMNRF to RTI applicant despite favourable appeal order

Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur has claimed that the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru ordered the creation of the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund like ‘a royal order’

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Ashlin Mathew

The Prime Minister’s Office has been withholding information regarding the creation of the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund in response to an RTI application despite the first appellate authority directing it to give list of files with reference numbers on the creation of PMNRF within 25 working days on July 3. This was revealed in a RTI response to the application filed by Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd).

Deputy Secretary and appellate authority Amrik Singh observed that the RTI seeking information on PMNRF was filed on April 21. After he had examined the records, Singh noted that even after a considerable time, the final response has not been provided. “The PMO is directed to provide the final response (on PMNRF) to the applicant within 25 working days from the date of issue of this letter,” said Singh.

Batra had sought list of files which have details on the creation of PMNRF. He wanted files which have information on the conception, discussion and processes followed till date in PMNRF. He had requested for certified copies of complete files including notings where PMNRF was declared a ‘Trust’ by the Income Tax Department and thereafter tax rebate was allowed (possibly in 1973).

In his RTI, Batra also asked for ‘procedures and processes followed for the selection of the Chartered Accountant from time to time for conducting the audit’. He wanted to know the years in which the audit was conducted and details of those who conducted the audit. Batra wanted documents, including notings, where in the mid-eighties, the managing committee of PMNRF entrusted the entire management of PMNRF to the Prime Minister.

As he had got no response to his first application, he filed an appeal requesting for the information on June 1. It was in response to this appeal that Singh had directed the PMO on July 3 to share details relating to the PMNRF.

This assumes significance in the backdrop of Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur claiming that the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru ordered the creation of a Prime Minister's National Relief Fund like ‘a royal order’. He was responding to the Opposition’s questions on the need to create PM CARES Fund and the lack of transparency surrounding it.

Thakur stated in Parliament that PMNRF had not been registered. However, what Thakur did not reveal was that an application was filed in 1973 before the Income Tax Department under Section 12A of the Income Tax Act to register the fund as a Trust for Income Tax exemption. The application of the Fund was allowed by the Commissioner of Income Tax on September 18, 1973. Subsequently, the fund was allocated a separate Permanent Account Number (PAN).

In accordance with the rule of the day, the PMNRF was established after an appeal by then Prime Minister Nehru on January 24, 1948. He had issued a press note, in which it was stated that it would be desirable to have such a central relief fund, which can be used for any type of emergency relief of distress.

“Nehru felt the need to have such a fund to make ends meet in the hard times owing to rioting and exodus from Pakistan because of the partition of India,” stated a Delhi High Court order. The HC was considering whether PMNRF is a public authority under RTI and the single judge held that it was, upholding the decision of the authorities under the Act.

The case was then referred to a two-judge bench for consideration because Justices Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sunil Gaur had differing views on the matter, but they didn’t stay the original order. It was referred to a third judge in May 2018.

Finally, in 1985, the managing committee of PMNRF entrusted the management of PMNRF to the Prime Minister, who was given the discretion to appoint a secretary of the fund to manage it.

Since its inception, the PMNRF has been receiving voluntary donations from individuals and institutions. The funds received are disbursed to provide immediate relief from natural calamities, major accidents, riots and serious ailments under the directions of the Prime Minister.

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