The Delhi High Court on Friday agreed to hear petitions related to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) on December 10.
Earlier, the matter was listed for November 10, but got adjourned as the concerned bench did not assemble. On Friday, the bench presided by Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh allowed an early hearing of the pleas in the matter.
The petitions filed by Samyak Gangwal, through advocates Debopriyo Moulik and Ayush Shrivastava, sought to declare the PM CARES Fund a “State” under 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.
He also sought to prevent the PM CARES Fund from using the State Emblem of India on its website, Trust Deed other official or unofficial communications and advertisements.
In response to the petition, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) submitted before the court 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. Furthermore, it is not a part of any government scheme or business of the central government, and being a public trust, it is also not subject to an audit of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
According to the Centre’s 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 affidavit added that to ensure transparency, the audited report is put on the official website of the Trust along with the details of utilisation of funds received by the Trust.
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 in 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.
In another petition, Gangwal has challenged the decision of the Central Public Information Officer and PMO wherein the RTI application seeking documents related to the PM CARES Fund was denied.