Letter to the Prime Minister

 

To

Shri Narendra Modiji

Prime Minister of India

Dear Shri Modiji,

I refer to my letter dated 9-4-2020 (enclosed) on the modalities of creating the PM CARES fund (hereafter referred as PMCARES) and the need to ensure utmost transparency in its utilisation.

PMCARES was set up towards the end of March, 2020, more than a month ago.

I understand that, within a week from its inception, the fund received more than Rs 6,500 Crores. From news reports, I gather that the Central PSUs alone contributed Rs 2,500 Crores.

Even a public sector entity like Railways, which is running on a deficit budget and which has heavy commitments to be made for the safety of its passengers, for strengthening its distressed bridges, upgrading its aged tracks and modernising its traditional signalling system, has apparently contributed Rs 151 Crores to PMCARES!

Many private companies and even State PSUs which would have otherwise contributed their CSR funds to the Chief Ministers’ Relief Funds were informed by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, for reasons best known to that Ministry, that such contributions would not qualify for CSR benefits under the Companies Act. Consequently, all those CSR funds have also got diverted to PMCARES at a heavy cost to the States, who are fighting against odds in the battle against COVID19.

I find that PMCARES has also secured exemption from the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) and, as a result, many foreign firms, including foreign defence firms, seem to have committed sizeable contributions to it.

In other words, there has been a flood of funds flowing into PMCARES, ostensibly meant to be utilised on a war footing for tackling calamities, especially COVID.

Considering that PMCARES is a body created under a statute, considering that it is managed by several high-ranking public functionaries and considering that it’s financial strength arises from public funds, I thought that those who are entrusted with its management would respect the requirements of the Right to Information Act and make a public disclosure of the details of the donations received and the purposes for which it is being utilised. However, to my disappointment, I find that no such details are available at the PMCARES website as on date.

The objectives of PMCARES, as enumerated at the website, include “the creation or upgradation of healthcare or pharmaceutical facilities, other necessary infrastructure, funding relevant research or any other type of support to render financial assistance, provide grants of payments of money or take such other steps as may be deemed necessary by the Board of Trustees to the affected population“. These are indeed laudable objectives, if fulfilled.

Now that more than a month has elapsed since the inception of PMCARES and since the urgency of dealing with COVID19 cannot be underestimated, I am sure that the fund managers would have already put to use a substantial portion of the funds received for meeting the pressing requirements of the anti-COVID operations.

As I see it, PMCARES headed by no less than the Prime Minister himself, would have already utilised a substantial portion of the fund for

  • Procuring the much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the medical and the para-medical personnel, including the auxiliary personnel, like the ambulance drivers, the sanitation workers and so on, relentlessly engaged in dealing with the virus-affected patients, treating them on a day-to-day basis, undeterred by the threat of personally getting exposed to the disease
  • Securing the other medical equipment such as virus test kits and for setting up isolation/ quarantine facilities
  • Strengthening the facilities for research on virus prevention and cure
  • Providing relief, including the equivalent of the wages lost and the cost of transporting the migrant workers to their home villages and providing similar relief to the millions of the other marginalised families who have lost their meagre livelihoods as a result of the somewhat inadequately planned lockdown restrictions and the equally abrupt lockdown relaxations
  • Extending the much needed financial assistance to the States which have been at the forefront of the anti-COVID operations

On the other hand, if those in charge of PMCARES have not yet used the fund till date for uses such as those cited above, it raises serious concerns about the rationale for the creation of such a fund. If the fund is not used in a timely manner, its utility will become questionable.

From the disclosure made at the PMCARES website, the fund “will be audited by one or more qualified independent auditor(s) who will be appointed by the Trustees“. Considering that the fund has sizeable contributions from the public sector and the employees in the public sector, would it not be desirable that it’s audit is entrusted to the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (C&AG)?

Under Article 19 of the Constitution and under the Right to information Act enacted in pursuance of that Article, as a citizen, I am entitled to know the sources from which PMCARES is drawing its resources and how those resources are being utilised.

May I appeal to you, Mr Prime Minister, to make an urgent public disclosure of such information?

I am sure that once such a disclosure is made, it will address many of the concerns expressed above.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to Govt of India

Visakhapatnam


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