The Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought a reply from the Centre on a lawyer's petition seeking an audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India and public declaration of funds received by the Prime Minister's Citizens Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund), a public charitable trust created by the central government for dealing with contingencies arising due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Division bench of Justice Sunil B Shukre and Justice Anil S Kilor of the Nagpur bench was hearing a petition filed by Advocate Arvind Waghmare and directed the Centre to file an affidavit in reply to the petition and clarify its stand on the issues raised in the plea.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the bench that the petition should be dismissed as a similar petition filed before the Supreme Court was dismissed in April. In fact, the Supreme Court had dismissed two separate petitions in April challenging the validity of the PM Cares Fund.
However, the bench noted that the present petition is seeking different reliefs than those before the Supreme Court and directed the Union government to file an affidavit in response to the plea within two weeks.
According to the petition, the PM Cares Fund was formed on March 28 and although Rs.6500 crore is reported to have been collected in the first week, subsequent data regarding funds collected so far has not been made available.
The PM CARES trust is chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself and ministers from the departments of defence, home and finance are members of this trust. It was created with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distressed situation posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Furthermore, the petitioner has alleged that as per the guidelines of the PM CARES Fund, apart from the chairperson and three other trustees, the chairperson had to appoint or nominate three more trustees. However, since the formation of the trust on March 28, 2020 till date no appointment has been made.
Directions have been sought to the government and the trust to appoint or nominate at least two members from opposition parties in the lower house as well as the upper house in order to "have a proper check and transparency."
Moreover, directions have been sought to allow CAG to audit the PM Cares Fund instead of an independent auditor selected by the aforesaid trustees of the fund, which is what the government wants.
The petition states-
"In order to fortify and strengthen the general public's faith and confidence, it is necessary to issue a direction to the government to declare the funds collected by PM CARES trust till date and how the same have been used for the benefits of citizens affected by coronavirus"