A day after it emerged that the Centre told the Delhi High Court that the PM-CARES Fund was not a “fund of the Government of India”, Opposition parties have called for greater transparency and point out that government employees are asked to donate to the fund and government websites also canvass for donations.
Official government websites, including the national portal india.gov.in, carry links to donate to the PM-CARES Fund. Some, such as the Department of Expenditure under the Ministry of Finance, still have links to the PM-CARES website, which has an official .gov.in portal of its own, as on September 25.
Official websites of Central Ministries and departments encourage users to donate to the fund that was launched in March 2020. Many of them have since taken down the links directing users to the PM-CARES portal. However, screenshots of the websites over the past year show the link.
Government employees were also asked to donate a day’s salary to the fund in 2020 as part of efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials declined to comment on the matter. Requests for comments from Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh were not answered at the time of writing.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba wrote to all Secretaries on April 16, 2020 , asking them to issue an appeal to all employees in their Ministries, departments and public sector undertakings to contribute to the fund. He had written that the amount deducted at source “may be sent” to the fund. The IAS Association in a tweet on April 22, 2020, supported the appeal and called upon IAS officers to contribute to the fund.
Two officials, on condition of anonymity, said Ministries had issued orders regarding voluntary donations and that they did not know the PM-CARES Fund was not an official government fund at that time.
In the wake of the developments in the Delhi High Court, Opposition leaders raised concerns over transparency. The court was hearing a petition asking that the fund be declared a “public authority” under the Right to Information Act.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted a picture of the government order from April 2020 asking government servants to donate a day’s salary per month till March 2021 asking, “If the PM-CARES Fund is not government’s fund, then how are such orders issued?”
Mr. Yechury said that this outright loot should be stopped and the fund must be audited and made accountable.
Jairam Ramesh, a senior Congress leader and party Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha, said: “A fund managed by the PM, of the PM and for the PM. A fund carrying the Prime Minister’s title is not a government fund? What a joke and what an insult to public intelligence”.
Mr. Ramesh said that it was incomprehensible why the fund could not be subjected to an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, if indeed as per the government’s own claim, the fund maintained transparency.
“The fact is that where the funds come from and how they are spent are totally opaque,” he added.
D. Raja, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, said: “In the past, questions were raised about PM-CARES Fund, both inside and outside Parliament. It is not a personal fund of the Prime Minister or the private fund of any individual or party. The public has contributed to this fund.”
The government’s claim of transparency held good only if it revealed the names of all contributors and how the fund had been used so far, Mr. Raja added.