CCG OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER ON THE PM-CARES FUND

16 January 2021

Dear Prime Minister,

            We are a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services who have worked for decades with the Central and State Governments. As a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but are committed to the Constitution of India.

            We have been keenly following the ongoing debate about the “Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations”, or “PM-CARES” – a fund created for the benefit of people affected by the COVID pandemic.  Both the purpose for which it has been created as well as the way it has been administered have left a number of questions unanswered.

            The speed with which the fund was set up was breath-taking. It was registered on 27 March 2020, within three days of the first nationwide lockdown. As per information available on the website of the fund, in less than a week, the fund had received ₹ 3076.62 crores.  The actual amount received to date is yet to be disclosed.

            The immediate cause of this letter is the refusal of the Government of India on 24 December 2020, to divulge details under the Right to Information (RTI) Act on the grounds that the PM Cares Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. If it is not a public authority, how have the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Defence Minister and Finance Minister, as members of the government, lent their designations and official positions to it? Why are they Trustees in their official capacity and not as private citizens?

            If PM-CARES is a private Trust, should donations to it be eligible as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure? Schedule VII (ix) under Section 135 of the Companies Act allows CSR exemptions for only certain types of funds established by Government including for socio-economic and relief work. On 28 March 2020, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued a circular stating “Item no. (viii) of Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, which enumerates activities that may be undertaken by companies in discharge of their CSR obligations, inter alia provides that contribution to any fund set up by the Central Government for socio-economic development and relief qualifies as CSR expenditure. The PM-CARES Fund has been set up to provide relief to those affected by any kind of emergency or distress situation. Accordingly, it is clarified that any contribution made to the PM-CARES Fund shall qualify as CSR expenditure under the Companies Act 2013.” Clearly, contributions to the fund could not have been legitimate CSR expenditure had the fund not been “set up by the Central Government”.

            The question that then arises is whether the circular of 28 March 2020 is legally deficient, more particularly when the Ministry of Corporate Affairs issues a gazette notification on 26 May, 2020 to include this fund in Schedule VII under Section 135 of the Companies Act as eligible to receive CSR funds with retrospective effect from 28 March 2020.  The new entry of PM-CARES to the list at item (viii) in Schedule VII comes after the entry “Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)”. Why was the new fund necessary when the nation already had a fund for national relief?

            The Trust deed of the PM-CARES fund states in point 5.3 that “this trust is neither intended to be or is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any government or any instrumentality of the government. There is no control of either the central government or any state governments, either direct or indirect, in the functioning of the trust in any manner whatsoever.” Then how is it that such large deposits have come from the public sector? If the Fund is not a public authority, why are our Embassies seeking funds from abroad? The MEA’s press release of 30 March, 2020 states that in a video conference you had with our Ambassadors on that day, you had explicitly “advised Heads of Mission to suitably publicize the newly-established PM-CARES Fund to mobilize donations from abroad.” Most certainly, the fact that you and other senior Ministers of Government handling sensitive portfolios are Trustees would ensure a substantial flow of funds. Also, contributions are being solicited by government officials from private citizens. The then Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, appealed to the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAI) to donate to the Fund and the ICAI complied. Can the Secretary seek donations from an organisation he has official dealings with?

            Though the PM-CARES fund is not being accepted as a public authority, under the RTI Act, in 2019, the Supreme Court held that trusts, societies and non-government organisations, both private and public, which enjoy “substantial government financing”, should be treated as “public authorities” under the RTI Act. The substantial government funding in the case of PM-CARES is evident from the wages and other moneys received directly or indirectly from the Consolidated Fund. As per a Times of India report on 19 May, 2020,  out of over Rs 10,600 crores in the fund, over ₹ 3200 crores was from public companies and nearly ₹ 1200 crores from public sector employees – apparently from out of salaries and wages of members of the defence forces, and other government and semi-government organisations.

            There is a clear absence of transparency in every aspect of PM-CARES.  Neither details of donors and amounts received nor details of expenditures incurred are in the public domain.  This opacity is disturbing as the State governments handling the COVID-19 challenge were, and continue to be, sorely in need of financial assistance.  

             Public memory is short, Mr. Prime Minister. The young people of our country may not have even heard of A.R. Antulay, who in 1980, as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, created a number of funds, including one called the Indira Gandhi Pratibha Pratishthan. In that case, the fund was apparently a private fund but couched as if it were the Government’s.  Ultimately, Antulay was charged by BJP functionaries in court and had to resign.

            It is necessary that, for reasons of probity and adherence to standards of public accountability, the financial details of receipts and expenditures be made available in order to avoid doubts of wrongdoing. In the well-known 1975 Raj Narain case, Justice Mathew observed that “the people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries.” It is essential that the position and stature of the Prime Minister is kept intact by ensuring total transparency in all dealings the Prime Minister is associated with.     

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

(100 signatories, as below)

1.       

Anita Agnihotri

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI

2.       

S.P. Ambrose

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI

3.       

Anand Arni

R&AW (Retd.)

Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

4.       

G. Balachandhran

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

5.       

Vappala Balachandran

IPS (Retd.)

Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

6.       

Gopalan Balagopal

IAS (Retd.)

Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

7.       

Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Coal, GoI

8.       

Sharad Behar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

9.       

Madhu Bhaduri

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Portugal

10.   

Meeran C Borwankar

IPS (Retd.)

Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI

11.   

Ravi Budhiraja

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI

12.   

Sundar Burra

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

13.   

Rachel Chatterjee

IAS (Retd.)

Former Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh

14.   

Kalyani Chaudhuri

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

15.   

Gurjit Singh Cheema

IAS (Retd.)

Former Financial Commissioner (Revenue), Govt. of Punjab

16.   

Anna Dani

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

17.   

Surjit K. Das

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand

18.   

Vibha Puri Das

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI

19.   

P.R. Dasgupta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI

20.   

Pradeep K. Deb

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI

21.   

Keshav Desiraju

IAS (Retd.)

Former Health Secretary, GoI

22.   

M.G. Devasahayam

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana

23.   

Sushil Dubey

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Sweden

24.   

A.S. Dulat

IPS (Retd.)

Former OSD on Kashmir, Prime Minister’s Office, GoI

25.   

K.P. Fabian

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Italy

26.   

Arif Ghauri

IRS (Retd.)

Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)

27.   

Gourisankar Ghosh

IAS (Retd.)

Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI

28.   

Suresh K. Goel

IFS (Retd.)

Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI

29.   

H.S. Gujral

IFoS (Retd.)

Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab

30.   

Meena Gupta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI

31.   

Ravi Vira Gupta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India

32.   

Deepa Hari

IRS (Resigned)

 

33.   

Vivek Harinarain

IAS (Retd.)

Govt. of Tamil Nadu

34.   

Sajjad Hassan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur

35.   

Kamal Jaswal

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI

36.   

Vinod C. Khanna

IFS (Retd.)

Former Additional Secretary, MEA, GoI

37.   

Ajai Kumar

IFoS(Retd.)

Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI

38.   

Brijesh Kumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI

39.   

Ish Kumar

IPS (Retd.)

Former DGP (Vigilance & Enforcement), Govt. of Telangana and former Special Rapporteur, National Human Rights Commission

40.   

Sudhir Kumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal

41.   

P.K. Lahiri

IAS (Retd.)

Former ED, Asian Development Bank & Former Revenue Secretary, GoI

42.   

Subodh Lal

IPoS (Resigned)

Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI

43.   

B.B. Mahajan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Deptt. of Food, GoI

44.   

Harsh Mander

IAS (Retd.)

Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

45.   

Amitabh Mathur

IPS (Retd.)

Former Director, Aviation Research Centre and Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

46.   

Lalit Mathur

IAS (Retd.)

Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI

47.   

Aditi Mehta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan

48.   

Sonalini Mirchandani

IFS (Resigned)

GoI

49.   

Noor Mohammad

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, Govt. of India

50.   

Avinash Mohananey

IPS (Retd.)

Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim

51.   

Deb Mukharji

IFS (Retd.)

Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal

52.   

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee

IFS (Retd.)

Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

53.   

Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay

IAS (Retd.)

Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI

54.   

Sobha Nambisan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka

55.   

P.G.J. Nampoothiri

IPS (Retd.)

Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat

56.   

Surendra Nath

IAS (Retd.)

Former Member, Finance Commission, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

57.   

P. Joy Oommen

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh

58.   

Amitabha Pande

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI

59.   

Mira Pande

IAS (Retd.)

Former State Election Commissioner, West Bengal

60.   

Alok Perti

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI

61.   

R. Poornalingam

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI

62.   

Rajesh Prasad

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to the Netherlands

63.   

R.M. Premkumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

64.   

T.R. Raghunandan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI

65.   

N.K. Raghupathy

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI

66.   

V.P. Raja

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission

67.   

C. Babu Rajeev

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, GoI

68.   

K. Sujatha Rao

IAS (Retd.)

Former Health Secretary, GoI

69.   

M.Y. Rao

IAS (Retd.)

 

70.   

Satwant Reddy

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI

71.   

Vijaya Latha Reddy

IFS (Retd.)

Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI

 

72.   

Julio Ribeiro

IPS (Retd.)

Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania

73.   

Aruna Roy

IAS (Resigned)

 

74.   

Manabendra N. Roy

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

75.   

A.K. Samanta

IPS (Retd.)

Former Director General of Police (Intelligence), Govt. of West Bengal

76.   

Deepak Sanan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh

77.   

G. Sankaran

IC&CES (Retd.)

Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal 

78.   

S. Satyabhama

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI

79.   

N.C. Saxena

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI

80.   

A. Selvaraj

IRS (Retd.)

Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI

81.   

Ardhendu Sen

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

82.   

Abhijit Sengupta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI

83.   

Aftab Seth

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Japan

84.   

Ashok Kumar Sharma

IFoS (Retd.)

Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat

85.   

Ashok Kumar Sharma

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia

86.   

Navrekha Sharma

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Indonesia

87.   

Pravesh Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

88.   

Raju Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh

89.   

Rashmi Shukla Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

90.   

Ramesh Inder Singh

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Punjab and former Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab

91.   

Sujatha Singh

IFS (Retd.)

Former Foreign Secretary, GoI

92.   

Tirlochan Singh

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI

93.   

Jawhar Sircar

 

IAS (Retd.)

 

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati

94.   

Parveen Talha

IRS (Retd.)

Former Member, Union Public Service Commission

95.   

P.S.S. Thomas

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission

96.   

Geetha Thoopal

IRAS (Retd.)

Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata

97.   

Hindal Tyabji

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir

98.   

Jawed Usmani

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh & former Chief Information Commissioner, Uttar Pradesh

99.   

Ashok Vajpeyi

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi

100.                       

Ramani Venkatesan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra

 

 

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