A plea filed before Delhi HC to direct PM CARES Fund to divulge information under RTI Act
A petition has been filed before the Delhi High Court seeking a direction to the PM CARES Fund to divulge information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The Petition asserts that the PM CARES Fund is a ‘public authority’ within the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act and is thus obligated to disclose not only the details of the money received by it but also the details of its utilization.
The Petition has been preferred by Advocate Dr. Surender Singh Hooda.
On the “controlled” qualifier, the plea states: “The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES fund while the ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are its ex-officio trustees. The Chairman and trustees of the fund further have the power to appoint three additional trustees. The Rules/criteria for spending the funds of the trust shall be formulated by the Prime Minister and the three ministers aforementioned.”
Relying on media reports, the Petitioner has informed the Court that on May 31, the PM CARES Fund refused to divulge information sought by one Harsha Kundakarni under the Right to Information Act, 2005 by claiming that it was not a ‘public authority’ within the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Petitioner has stated that the Fund was set up to fight COVID-19, a public cause, and as much as Rs 10, 000 crores were collected by way of donations from the public at large, including donations from the Public Sector Undertakings, salaries of armed forces personnel, civil servants and members of the judicial entities.
On financing, it said: “The corpus of Rs 10,000 crore has been created by donations largely from the Public Sector Undertakings, Central Ministries and Departments and even the salaries of armed forces personnel, civil servants and members of the judicial entities have been compulsorily donated into the fund.”
Under such a circumstance, the reluctance of the trustees of the Fund in divulging information with respect to its management raises a profoundly serious apprehension, the Petitioner has asserted.
“It is well known that sunlight is the best disinfectant and all the undesirable activities are done under the cover of darkness. Transparency is the bedrock of rule of law and opaqueness smells of ulterior motives or at least is indicative of feudal mindset and hawkish attitude, which is opposed to being fair, just and reasonable in public dealings.”, the Petition reads.
Further, the plea posits that if the fund is held not to be a public authority, the possibility of whether those at higher levels could prompt government agencies, public servants, to contribute should be examined. These details are currently opaque, it notes.
Also argued that given the nature and scale of the PM CARES fund, coronavirus victims have a “right to know” how much is collected and what is planned.
“The victims of COVID-19 … and are not in a position to enforce their fundamental right of being treated and financially supported, by the use of funds collected in the PM CARES fund. Every victim of COVID-19 is interested in and has a right to know as to how much fund has been collected and how the same is being expended or is planned to be expended. These victims are not able to enforce their fundamental right to get medical treatment and financial support and hence the Petitioner, being a public-spirited person is compelled to file the present Writ Petition in the nature of PIL,” the plea states.
The petition also called out trustees for “reluctance in divulging information as to management”, which raises “profoundly serious apprehension” since it was created to fight a public cause.
The Petitioner has thus claimed that he has filed the present petition on behalf of every COVID-19 victim who has the right to know how the Fund was spending the donations.
“The soldiers of our armed forces who have also contributed their hard-earned salaries also have a right to know that their contribution has gone towards the objectives set forth by the fund. The members of the public who have contributed also have a right to know..“, the Petitioner adds as he informs that the PM CARES Fund is controlled by the Government.
The Petitioner has prayed that in the interest of justice, the exercise of filing of an RTI application by the Petitioner on the issue and then filing an appeal before the statutory authority concerned against the finding may be dispensed with.
The matter is likely to be heard on June 10.