[Challenge to PMCARES Fund] Allahabad HC issues notice to UOI and NDMA in delay condonation plea

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PMCARES Fund was created to collect donations in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the Prime Minister (PM) being the ex officio Chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) – which controls the NDRF.

In a delay condonation application pertaining to a review petition questioning the legal validity of the PMCARES Fund and the PMNRF, the Allahabad High Court has recently issued notice to the Union of India and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

A division bench of Chief Justice Pritinker Diwaker and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh issued the notice after hearing Advocates Shashwat Anand and Rajesh Inamdar appearing for the petitioner, Divya Pal Singh.

The court allowed the respondents to file objection to the delay condonation application, if any, and posted the matter in the last week of July, 2023 to be heard next. 

The petitioner, a lawyer and a donor to the PMCARES Fund, approached the high court in review after the Supreme Court asked him to assail the dismissal of his plea against validity of the PMCARES Fund by the high court back in August 2020.

The top court, in Mar had allowed the petitioner to withdraw the plea filed before it and move the high court in review. A bench of Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice BR Gavai had said, "Tell the high court that certain grounds were not considered".

Thereafter, the petitioners approached the high court again. Their review petition stated that the Apex Court, in the CPIL before it, was apprised that no government money is credited in the PM CARES Fund and it consists entirely of voluntary contributions from individuals/organizations, however, in reality, the top court was misled. 

The petitioners alleged that the Central Government blatantly lied, concealed and suppressed fact(s) before the apex court that an ocean of public money is surreptitiously being poured into the PMCARES Fund by the Government ministries, agencies, and instrumentalities.

The review petition stated that the data available on the government website of the Public Financial Management System (PFMS), reveals that unimaginable and unfathomable amounts of public money is being pumped unabatedly every day, into the coffers of the said Fund, by way of contributions from various Government Ministries, its Departments and Agencies, etc.

"...money from Direct Taxes, Indirect Taxes, Election Commission of India, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairs, Dept. of Expenditure, Dept. of Revenue, Ministry of IT, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of I&B, etc., is being poured into the PMCARES Fund, to name a few. Shockingly, the money even from Government-controlled funds such as ‘Assistance related to Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster’ meant for the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, has not been spared and is also being drained into the said Fund," the plea read. 

The petition also questioned the non-transparent, opaque and unaccountable nature of the PMCARES Fund which is also beyond the purview of the RTI Act, and remains unaudited by the CAG.

"The public has absolutely no clue about the incalculable amounts of money secretively, unauthorizedly and unlawfully being pumped into the PMCARES Fund everyday, neither have the people any inkling of where and how such money is being used/spent. Apart from that, there is no data or proof of the voluntary donations available anywhere, which may be manifold of the involuntary ones," the petition stated. 

It further claimed that the office of the Prime Minister is not only bound in law, but also in conscience, to carry out the object and mandate of the 2005 Act in its very letter and spirit, hence, accordingly, the new trust (PM-CARES), in pith and substance, being contrary to the 2005 Act and the statutory fund (NDRF) thereunder as well, is void ab initio.

The main prayer of the petitioners is that they seek both the PMNRF and the PMCARES Fund, to be declared as illegal and void, and the money collected under these trusts (PMNRF and PM-CARES Fund) be deemed as money collected towards the NDRF constituted by the Central Government under the 2005 Act.

"...the funds so collected deserve to be transferred/credited therein: so as to be under the public scanner and to be used fairly and under the existing efficient and effective statutory procedure as per the mandate of the 2005 Act", the plea read. 

Apart that, another direction has been sought to be issued to the Central Government, to make full disclosure of the accounts, activity and expenditure details of the PM-CARES Fund to the public at large.

Case Title: Divya Pal Singh v. Union Of India And 2 Others