A media enthusiast, Devyani believes in learning on the job and there is nothing off limits when it comes to work. Writing is her passion and she is always ready for a debate as well.
On Saturday, Lok Sabha witnessed heated discussions between the Modi government and the opposition parties over lack of transparency in the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance And Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES).
Trinamool Congress lawmaker Mahua Moitra gave a fierce speech and raised various questions about the establishment of the fund. She alleged that PM CARES is against the public interest, as it has no accountability to the Parliament, even though it collects funds from the public.
She argued that the fund takes away statutory promises made under the GST regime, and corners public funds to the detriment of state relief funds. She said PSUs competing to donate money to PM Cares are like 'courtiers of the Emperor, competing with each other to give gifts with public funds'.
She asked the government to stop lying about everything being put into question - about foreign incursions into the country, about growth rates, migrant welfare, other expenditures and the Fund. "Secondly, the government should stop marketing the ₹20,00,000 crore packages as relief measures, when the truth is that it's the mixture of the money already spent and the allotted. Third, the centre should stop spending money on vanity projects and put it where it's actually needed, one being returning states their dues/compensation."
Further, Moitra asked the government the need for setting up the Fund, in the presence of an existing one - PMNRF, which is for the same cause. "The very name – PM Fund makes people think this is a government authority, and keeping it under RTI, it clearly lacks transparency, which the government is obliged to. "Prime Ministers will come and go, but the existence of a fund is not up for discussion? What is this need to name everything after one individual."
She alleged PM Cares of diverting funds from local communities into this dark hole where not even a speck of light can enter. "Coal India has committed ₹221 crores to a fund, while it cannot contribute to the state relief funds of West Bengal and Jharkhand, where it has 90 per cent of its operations…it's almost like the courtiers of the emperor are competing with each other to give gifts to the emperor with public funds," she said.
The TMC leader further said that unfair treatment of state and central relief funds is in violation of Article 14 of the constitution, and also stands against the public interest, against public policy, and completely disincentives corporate contributions which the state governments would have received.
She said that the objective of the Bill is to give blanket clearance without holding any accountability to PM Cares Fund.
Speaking during the debate on Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation & Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, Moitra said, "The Centre cannot run away from its responsibility. It must cover up to ₹2.35 lakh crore by borrowing. I ask myself in such a situation: is incompetence post majeure (an event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled)? Is criminal negligence post majeure?"
The funds are being raised on the basis of a public office, and not opening it to RTI clearly shows the lack of transparency, she added. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in May clarified that the PM-CARES Fund was not a public authority under section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, and therefore it won't be able to divulge information sought in the application. The RTI was filed on April 1 by a student of the Azim Premji University, by Harsha Kandukuri.
"I am sure no dying Indian would want to be on a ventilator paid for by enemy money at this time. The dangers of these foreign donations are amplified by the fact that the PM Cares Fund is exempt from FCRA regulations, even though it doesn't meet the precondition of a body whose funds are audited by the CAG."
Moitra slammed the government for accepting money from Chinese firms like Tik Tok, which gave ₹30 crores to the fund. Xiaomi, which has been accused of spying on people, gave ₹10 crores to the fund. Huawei, which has been banned worldwide for its documented links to the Chinese army, gave ₹10 crores. Moitra questioned why the tainted money has not been returned by the government, especially considering that some of these have been banned amid the ongoing standoff between the two countries.
"Many sectors made it compulsory for employees to donate at least their one month salary and some had deductions in their pay every month. So, how some individual is expected to not adhere to it. This is an atmosphere of fear and vengeance that this government has created in the country," she added.
These PSUs are basically public money and without an audit, it gives rise to a conflict of interest.
"The honourable minister, while introducing the Bill yesterday, read out a long list of schoolchildren and pensioners who had easily given away their meagre savings to the PM Cares (Fund). But the honourable minister was strangely silent on the 38 PSUs that donated more than ₹2,100 crores to the Fund. More than 70 per cent of the Fund's corpus comes from these 38 donations," Moitra said.
Almost 38 public sector companies contributed ₹2,100 crores to the Fund, which is 70 per cent of the total amount, and hence, the accounts should be presented to the public, she added.
She ended by saying that today's India reminds her of Hans Christian Anderson's stories of the emperor's new clothes, where the emperor was cloaked in nothing, but the sycophantic courtiers could not tell him so.
"The Bengali poet, Dhirendra Nath Chakraborty, in his poem 'Ulongo Raja (The Naked King)' also said only one small innocent boy in the entire kingdom had the courage to stand up and ask the naked emperor, "Raja, tor kapod koi?" Today, I ask the same question: Emperor, where are your clothes?"
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