The Delhi High Court was on Tuesday told that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund can be set up as a trust can be set up but all “rigours of the Constitution” ought to apply.
The court was hearing a petition seeking a declaration that the fund is “state” under Article 12 of the Constitution and to restrain it from using Prime Minister of India or Prime Minister, including its abbreviations, in its name and on its website.
The PMO maintained that the PM CARES Fund comprises voluntary donations made by individuals and institutions and is not a part of the business or function of the Central government in any manner.
Appearing for Public Interest Litigation petitioner Samyak Gangwal, senior advocate Shyam Divan said the Fund is very very closely interlinked with the Prime Minister of India.
“Can you contract out of the Constitution? As long as you are ex-officio, the Constitution will drag you. You are ex-officio, you are taking the oath of office and your allegiance is to the Constitution,” he said.
As the bench asked whether he meant a trust could not have been set up, Divan said the trust can be set up but all rigours of the Constitution ought to apply there.
“Today it’s a trust, tomorrow it may be a private company!” he said.
According to the Centre’s earlier submissions, PM CARES Fund is not a “public authority” under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, further clarifying that no government money is credited in the PM CARES Fund and only unconditional and voluntary contributions are accepted under PM CARES Fund.
“It is reiterated that the Trust’s fund is not a fund of the Government of India and the amount does not go in the Consolidated Fund of India,” said an affidavit filed by the PMO.
The Centre further said that the trust functions on the principles of transparency and public good in larger public interest like any other charitable trust and, therefore, cannot have any objection to uploading all its resolutions on its website to ensure transparency.
Such a prayer is not only unheard of but is legally not maintainable, it said while urging the Delhi High Court to dismiss the petition.