PMO gets time to reply in PM CARES Fund plea

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Wednesday sought time from the Delhi High Court to submit its response to a petition seeking to declare the PM CARES Fund as a ‘public authority’ under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Solicitor General Tushar Metha told Justice Navin Chawla that the PMO will submit a reply explaining why the petition should not be entertained.

Justice Chawla, then gave the PMO eight weeks’ time to reply to the petition by advocate Samyak Gangwal challenging a June 2 order of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), PMO, refusing to provide documents sought by him under the RTI Act. Justice Chawla posted the case for further hearing on August 28.

Different plea

During the day, another Bench of the High Court headed by Chief Justice D.N. Patel declared as ‘dismissed as withdrawn’ a separate petition seeking to bring the PM CARES Funds under the ambit of the transparency law.

The Bench, also comprising Justice Prateek Jalan, declined to entertain the petition as the petitioner, advocate S.S. Hooda, had approached the HC without first preferring an RTI application with the PMO.

RTI plea rejected

Advocate Gangwal, in his plea, stated that he filed an online RTI application on May 1, 2020 seeking amongst others details of the trust deed of PM CARES Fund. Mr Gangwal also asked for the entire file wherein the decisio to constitute PM CARES Funds was taken.

When the CPIO, PMO failed to respond to his RTI application within the statutory 30 days period, Mr Gangwal filed an online RTI appeal. During the pendency of the appeal, on June 2, the CPIO, PMO sent a reply saying, “PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005”.

Mr. Gangwal then approached the high court with a petition filed through advocates Debopriyo Moulik and Ayush Shrivastava, seeking direction to set aside the CPIO’s order and to provide the documents as sought by him in the RTI application.

The plea argued that “the directions of the Prime Minister, use of the PMO, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the domain name, and trustee being the highest state functionaries cannot be deemed to be or be considered as actions in personal capacity”.

Right to know

On the other hand, Mr. Hooda, cited recent newspapers reports of the PM CARES Funds refusing to divulge information sought by one Harsha Kundakarni under the RTI Act by claiming that the fund is not a ‘public authority’.

Mr Hooda, who is also a practicing Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court, said 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.

“The reluctance of the trustees of the fund in divulging information as to the management of the fund raises a profoundly serious apprehension since the fund has been set up to fight Covid-19 which a public cause,” he argued.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:15:39 PM |

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