On Saturday, the 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).
Opposition parties like the Congress, DMK and the TMC opposed the setting up of the PM CARES Fund for COVID-19, terming it a "black hole" and questioned the tax breaks and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tag given for donations to it.
The opposition said the fund lacked transparency, a charge that Junior FinanceMinister Anurag Thakur rejected. He hit back at Congress, alleging the donations that were made for emergencies under Nehru's time, Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF), has been misused by the Congress' Gandhi family.
The heated debate took place when the Lok Sabha was discussing Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill 2020, that seeks to offer relief to taxpayers, providing a deduction for donations made to the PM-CARES Fund under section 80 (G), and an exemption to the fund's income reported The New Indian Express. The bill has now been passed.
N K Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) said that he did not understand the logic behind having a separate fund, when Prime Minister's National Relief Fund already exists and is meant for the same use, emergencies. Premachandran had initiated the debate on The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020.
"PM CARES Fund lacks transparency as it is not audited by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Further RTI is also not applicable. The question of transparency and accountability is the main issue I want to highlight", Premachandran as quoted by the media.
The prime minister, the home minister, the finance minister and the defence minister are the members of the PM-CARES fund. But for PMNRF, along with the above-mentioned ministers, the Congress president was also a member.
"Why was the Indian National Congress (INC) president a member of PMNRF," Thakur asked the opposition members, alleging that the PMNRF, stating that the fund was misused by the particular family.
Further, Trinamool Congress member Mahua Moitra also opposed the Bill, saying that the fund is clearly against the public interest, as it stays unanswerable to Parliament, even though it collects funds from the public.
Almost 38 public sector companies contributed ₹2,100 crore 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 also alleged that the Fund got money from Chinese firms like Tik Tok, and questioned why the government did not return the tainted money from such companies which have been banned amid the ongoing standoff between the two countries.
"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," Moitra said..
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.
According to the Taxpayer Bill that was passed on Saturday, the donation made to the PM-CARES Fund will be eligible for 100 percent deduction under section 80G of the IT Act.
Further, the limit on deduction of 10 percent of gross income shall also not be applicable for donation made to PM CARES Fund, an official statement was quoted by the media.
He further said the PMNRF was formed in 1948 but was not registered under relevant sections of existing laws, referring to section 12 (A) of the Companies Act. Thakur alleged that the fund was audited by a private auditor, who took money from one side and passed on to the family from the other side.
He said the funds used to be transferred from PMNRF to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. The Congress had maintained that PMNRF as a public charitable trust, so that there is no need for an audit by CAG.
"The money contributed in PM CARES fund so far is five times the money contributed in PMNRF during the UPA period. Doesn't it show the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?" Thakur as quoted.
Referring to questions to bring PM CARES under the RTI, Thakur said that the opposition party had gone to the Delhi High Court against the order of Central Information Commission (CIC) in the case of PMNRF, which clearly shows their double standard.
"They have looted all government institutions. They have taken money from all industrial houses and hardly spared any industrial house," he said.
He also alleged that they took money from Islamist preacher Zakir Naik in 2011 and returned it in 2014, and questioned what took the opposition to cause a delay in returning the donation, and whether the money was returned with or without interest.
Earlier, Manickam Tagore of Congress also opposed the bills and raised the issue of transparency in the Fund. He asked what would the government do if Chief Ministers of states stopped disclosing the spending under the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
He alleged that just like demonetisation, this is another way of the Modi government to convert black money into white.
The PM-CARES Fund trust has been in controversy ever since it was created, and had come under radar multiple times with regard to the issue of its transparency.