A day after it emerged that the Center had told the Delhi High Court that the PM-CARES Fund was not an “Indian government fund”, opposition parties called for greater transparency and pointed out that government employees are welcome to donate to the funds and government websites also solicit donations.
Official government websites, including the national portal india.gov.in, contain links to donate to the PM-CARES Fund. Some, like the Ministry of Finance’s Expenditure Department, still have links to the PM-CARES website, which has its own official .gov.in portal, such as September 25.
Official websites of central ministries and departments encourage users to donate to the fund which was launched in March 2020. Many of them have since removed links directing users to the PM-CARES portal. However, screenshots from websites over the past year show the link.
Government employees have also been asked to donate a day’s salary to the fund in 2020 as part of efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials declined to comment on the matter. Requests for comment from Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh have not been answered at time of writing.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Guba wrote to all secretaries on April 16, 2020, asking them to appeal to all employees in their ministries, departments and public sector companies to contribute to the fund. He wrote that the amount withheld at source “may be sent” to the fund. The IAS Association, in a tweet on April 22, 2020, supported the call and called on IAS agents to contribute to the fund.
Two officials, on condition of anonymity, said ministries had issued orders regarding voluntary donations and were unaware that the PM-CARES Fund was not an official government fund at the time.
In the wake of the events at the Delhi High Court, opposition leaders have raised concerns about transparency. The court was considering a petition requesting that the fund be declared a “public authority” under the Right to Information Act.
CPI Secretary General (M) Sitaram Yechury tweeted a photo of the government order from April 2020 asking officials to donate one day’s salary per month until March 2021 asking, “If the fund PM-CARES is not the government fund, so how are these orders published? “
Mr Yechury said this outright looting must be stopped and the fund must be audited and held accountable.
Jairam Ramesh, top congressional leader and chief party whip in Rajya Sabha, said: “A fund managed by the PM, the PM and for the PM. Isn’t a fund bearing the title of Prime Minister a government fund? What a joke and what an insult to public intelligence ”.
Mr Ramesh said it was incomprehensible why the fund could not be audited by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General, if indeed, according to the government’s own claim, the fund maintained transparency.
“The point is, where the funds come from and how they are spent are completely opaque,” he added.
D. Raja, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, said: “In the past, questions have been raised about the PM-CARES Fund, both inside and outside Parliament. It is not a personal fund of the Prime Minister or the private fund of an individual or a party. The public contributed to this fund.
The government’s claim of transparency is only valid if it reveals the names of all contributors and how the fund has been used so far, Raja added.