Skip to main content

How Government of India stonewalled RTI applications on PM Cares Funds

A series of RTI applications were filed in mid-June 2020 seeking information regarding the deliberations related to setting up of PM Cares Funds and allocations and use of funds from these PM Cares Funds. A summary of the RTI applications and replies and key observations about each one, compiled by Anjali Bharadwaj: 
***

RTI 1- Prime Minister’s Office

An RTI application was filed to the PMO seeking a copy of all files held by the PMO related to the PM CARES Fund. The PMO refused access to information citing that “PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply.
Observation: 
The PMO is obfuscating the matter by providing an incorrect and misleading response. The RTI application explicitly sought a copy of records related to the PM CARES Fund HELD BY the Prime Ministers Office (PMO). The PMO is a public authority under the RTI Act and is statutorily obligated to provide information. The issue of whether the PM CARES Fund qualifies as a public authority under the RTI Act is immaterial in so far as this request for information was concerned as only the records held by the PMO were sought. If any files related to the PM CARES Fund are held by or under the control of the PMO, which is a public authority, it is duty bound to furnish them as per the provisions of the RTI Act.

RTI 2 to Ministry of Corporate Affairs

RTI application sought copy of all the files and correspondence regarding the Office Memorandum issued by MoCA dated March 28, 2020 with the subject- Clarification on contribution to PM CARES Fund as eligible CSR activity under item no. (viii) of the Schedule VII of Companies Act, 2013.
Reply: Provided copy of correspondence and notings regarding the OM.
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply. 
Observations:
(1) On 28.3.2020, MoCA issued an OM with the subject “Clarification on contribution to PM CARES Fund as eligible CSR activity under item no. (viii) of the Schedule VII of Companies Act, 2013”. The OM states:
“item no. (viii) of the 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. 3. This issues with the approval of competent authority.”
(2) At the time of this clarification, Item viii of Schedule VII of the Companies Act, read as under-
“SCHEDULE VII (See Section 135)
Activities which may be included by companies in their Corporate Social Responsibility Policies
Activities relating to:—
xxx
viii) contribution to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central
Government for socio-economic development and relief and welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the
Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women;”
This shows that only 2 type of contributions were eligible under item (viii)- either those made to the prime minister's national relief fund or those to any other fund set up by the central government for development, relief, welfare.
(3) The documents accessed under RTI Act show that in the deliberations related to this clarification, the Ministry relied upon the understanding that the PM CARES Fund has been set up by the Central government and is therefore eligible for CSR expenditure. The deliberations are recorded in emails exchanged between officials of the Ministry between 9.52 pm and 11.29 pm on March 28, 2020, one day after the Fund was registered and announced. Relevant portions of the file noting signed by Deputy Director Aparna Mudiam are reproduced below:
“The Government of India is taking various measures to address the unprecedented health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’ (PM CARES Fund) has been set up with the primary objective of dealing with an emergency or distress situation as posed by COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected.
Xxx
2. Item no. (viii) of the Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013 inter alia provides for contribution to any funds set up by the Central Government for socio-economic development and relief. Contribution to PM CARES Fund is therefore an eligible CSR activity. Also, as per General Circular no. 21/2014 dated 18.06.2014 items in Schedule VII are broad based and may be interpreted liberally."  
(4) A perusal of the general circular 21/2014 referenced in the file noting shows that it only provides for liberally interpreting activities. No relaxation is provided to the requirement that the fund has to be set up by the Central government.
(5) Therefore, the clarification that contributions to PM CARES Fund are eligible for CSR funding relies on the fact that it is set up by the Central government. This is also noted in the OM.
(6) If a body is set up by the government, it qualifies as a public authority under the RTI Act as per the definition provided in Section 2(h)(d) as given below:
“2.(h) "public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—
xxx
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government,”
(7) The urgency with which the issue was dealt with could perhaps be to enable the PM CARES Fund to receive contributions from CSR funds of companies for the financial year 2019-20. The PM Cares Fund had a corpus of Rs 3,076.62 crore on March 31, 2020, of which Rs 3,075.85 crore was listed as “voluntary contributions”, according to its official website. The story by Indian Express highlights that as per RTI replies by the PSUs, in many cases PSUs donated from their unused allocation for  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities for 2019-2020 to the fund that was launched with just four days left for the financial year to end.
(8) On 26th May, 2020 (nearly 2 months after the OM issued by MoCA), the Central government amended item (viii) of Schedule VII of the Companies Act through a notification. The amendment was to insert PM CARES fund in the item. The amended version now reads as-
“(viii) contribution to the prime minister's national relief fund or Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund)] or any other fund set up by the central government for socio economic development and relief and welfare of the schedule caste, tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women;”
This notification further states that it shall be deemed to have come into force retrospectively from  28th March, 2020.

RTI 3- RTI to Cabinet Secretariat

An RTI application was filed to the Cabinet Secretariat seeking information on dates on which the cabinet discussed the PM CARES Funds a copy of all relevant files. The reply by the Cabinet Secretariat states, “As per inputs received from office, there was no agenda item in any Cabinet meeting specifically related to creation of PM-Cares Fund.”
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply.
Observations: 
This suggests that the decision to set up PM CARES Fund was not approved by cabinet secretariat. On the other hand, the documents from MoCA relied on that fact that the fund has been set up by the Central government to approve it for CSR funding. Appears odd that the decision to set up a body in which the PM is the chair in ex-officio capacity and 3 ministers are trustees, in ex-officio capacity, did not go through the cabinet.

RTI 4- RTI to Ministry of Law

Information was requested on whether comments of the Ministry of Law and Justice were sought on the PM CARES Fund and a copy of the relevant correspondence and notings. Despite passage of 2 months since the RTI application was filed, no response has been provided.
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply.  

RTI 5 to Labour ministry

As per information available in the public domain on official government websites Rs. 1000 Crore from the PM CARES Fund has been allocated for care of migrant labourers. An RTI application was filed to the Labour ministry seeking details of funds allocated to each state/UT, guidelines regarding utilisation of the funds, details of whether views of the ministry were sought regarding allocation of these funds.
Kindly provide the following information in this regard-
1. Amount of funds allocated to each state/UT.
2. Guidelines/advisory issued regarding utilisation of the funds for care of migrant labourers.
3. Kindly provide a copy of the letter/note/file vide which the views of the Ministry of Labour and Employment were sought on the funds allocated for allocated for care of migrant labourers from the PM CARES Fund (Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund).
4. Kindly provide a copy of the comments, correspondence, notings submitted, if any by the Ministry.
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply.
Reply:
RTI application was transferred to Prime Minister's Office vide registration number PMOIN/R/T/20/00300 respectively. Reply from PMO- PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of PM
CARES Fund may be seen on the Website-pmcares.gov.in

RTI 6 to Chief Labour Commissioner

As per information available in the public domain on official government websites Rs. 1000 Crore from the PM CARES Fund has been allocated for care of migrant labourers. An RTI application was filed to the Chief Labour Commissioner seeking details of funds allocated to each state/UT, guidelines regarding utilisation of the funds, details of whether views of the Chief Labour Commissioner were sought regarding allocation of these funds.
Click here for copy of RTI application and reply.   
Reply:
On 19/6/2020- RTI application transferred to Ministry of Labour & Employment. vide registration number MLABE/R/T/20/00511.
On 7/7/2020 Ministry of Labour transferred RTI request to Directorate General of Labour & Welfare, Head Quarter vide registration number DGLHQ/R/T/20/00206, DGLHQ/R/T/20/00232.
On 7/7/2020 status of DGLHQ/R/T/20/00206, shows request transferred to Office of The Chief  Labour Commissioner vide registration number OTCLC/R/T/20/00330 respectively.
On 10/7/2020- status of OTCLC/R/T/20/00330 shows REQUEST FORWARDED TO CPIO
On 15/7/2020- status of DGLHQ/R/T/20/00232, shows request transferred to Office of The Chief Labour Commissioner vide registration number OTCLC/R/T/20/00352 respectively.
On 18/8/2020- status of OTCLC/R/T/20/00352 shows request disposed of with pdf reply. Reply says no such information is available in this section
Observations:
Attempting to frustrate the RTI Act by transferring it around to each other. Finally Office of The Chief Labour Commissioner, to whom the original RTI was filed, replied on 18/8/2020 after it circled back to them by being transferred 5 times! The reply states no such information is available. The manner in which the RTI application has been dealt with is a violation of the Act, as they should have transferred the application to whoever has the necessary information as required under section 6(3) of the RTI Act.

Comments

TRENDING

When phone tapping rumours were afloat in Gujarat among BJP leaders, IAS babus

Gordhan Zadaphia By Rajiv Shah While alerts were coming in over the last few days about a series of articles on how phones of “journalists, ministers, activists” may have been used to spy on them with the help of an Israeli project, Pegasus, finally, when I got up on Monday morning, I saw a Times of India story quoting (imagine!, we never used to do this, did just a followup in case we missed a story) the Wire, a top news portal on this providing some details, along with government reaction.

Gandhi Ashram 'redevelopment': Whither well-known Gandhi experts, Gandhians?

Sudarshan Iyengar, Ramchandra Guha By Rajiv Shah Rehabilitating about 200 families, mostly Dalits, living in the Gandhi Ashram premises by offering them Rs 60 lakh in order to implement a Rs 1,200 crore project called Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project reportedly to bring the Ashram into its "original shape" as Gandhi established appears to me strange, to say the least.

Gandhi Ashram eviction: Finally historian Guha speaks out; but ageing trustees are silent

By Rajiv Shah Finally, at least one expert, top historian Ramachandra Guha, has spoken out on eviction of 200 families living in the Gandhi Ashram premises. Last week, I received an email alert from a veteran academic, Ashoke Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, which happens to be one of the most prestigious academic institutes of India based, informing me about it. NID is one of the several top institutes founded when Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s Prime Minister.

Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?

By Rajiv Shah Ever since Ashwini Vaishnaw was appointed as railway minister, I was curious to know who he was and how did he come closer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, most important, when. Hence, I decided to talk with some Sachivalaya officials in Gujarat in order to find out if there was, if any, Gujarat (or Modi) connection.

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Home Ministry data vs Health Ministry data! Gujarat's poor sex ratio at birth data

Home minister Amit Shah, health minister Harsh Vardhan By Rajiv Shah Don’t India’s top ministries – of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and of Home Affairs (MoHA) – tally data before releasing them? It would seem so… A few days back, I did a story in Counterview , based on an MoHA report, stating that Gujarat has the lowest sex rate at birth (SRB) at 901 girls as against 1000 births, followed by Assam (903), Madhya Pradesh (905) and Jammu & Kashmir (909), raising valid apprehensions that widescale female foeticide may be prevalent in India’s “model” State.

July 1: Observing communal harmony day in Ahmedabad, a highly segregated city

Activists at Vasant-Rajab memorial on July 1 By Rajiv Shah Celebrated as Communal Harmony Day in Ahmedabad, July 1, 2021 is remembered for the sacrifice of two friends, Vasant Rao Hegishte and Rajab Ali Lakhani, laid down their lives for the cause of communal harmony on the July 1, 1946 in the city. A memorial stands in their memory in Khandni Sheri, Jamalpur, Ahmedabad.

Periyar opposed imposition of alien culture on Dravidian people, but wasn't anti-Hindi

By  Vidya Bhushan Rawat* Thiru K Veeramani is the ideological disciple of EVR Periyar and one of the senior most leaders of the Dravidian movement at the moment. He started working under his mentor EVR Periyar at the age of 10 years when he delivered his first speech in Salem. Veeramani is President of Dravidar Kazhagam and editor of Modern Rationalist, a monthly journal devoted to Periyar’s ideas. That apart, he is editor of many other magazines and journals in Tamil. This interview was conducted by Vidya Bhushan Rawat at the Periyar Thidal on November 1st, 2019. These are some of the excerpts and the entire interview can be viewed at the youtube link being provided at the end of the article. Dravidian movement internationally Thiru Veeramani said that “It is high time that Periyar must be globalised now. He said that it was easier in relation to Dr Ambedkar since he has written in English and almost all the western audience read him through his work. But the southern part of India

Positive side of Vaishnaw? Ex-official insists: Give him loss making BSNL, Air India

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.