A PIL has been filed before the Delhi High Court seeking a direction to the Trustees of the PM CARES Fund to display on its website the details of the money received and the purposes for which such amount has been utilized.
The petition has been filed by Dr. SS Hooda through Advocate Aditya Hooda, in the backdrop of a reply given by the PM's Office to an RTI application, stating that PM CARES FUNDS is not a 'public authority' under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The Petitioner has submitted that any Body that is "owned", "controlled" or "substantially financed" by the Government qualifies a public authority under the RTI Act. In the present case, it is submitted; the PM CARES Fund is both controlled as well as substantially financed by the Government.
To establish control of the Government it is submitted,
"The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of PM CARES fund while the ministers of Defense, Home Affairs and Finance are its ex-officio trustees. The Chairman and trustees of the fund further have the power to appoint three additional trustees. The Rules/criterions for spending the funds of the trust shall be formulated by the Prime Minister and the three ministers aforementioned."
So far as financing is concerned the plea states,
"The corpus of Rs. 10,000 crores has been created by donations largely from the Public Sector Undertakings, Central Ministries and Departments and even the salaries of armed forces personnel, civil servants and members of the judicial entities have been compulsorily donated into the fund."
Thus it is submitted, in light of the dictum of the Supreme Court in PUCL v. Union of India, (2004) 2 SCC 476, that the PM CARES is a public authority.
The right to information flows from Article 19(1)(a). Accordingly it has been pleased that even if PM CARES is not a public authority under RTI Act, the people of the country still have a fundamental right to know about the source of funds and details of their expenditure
Further it is submitted that if PM CARES is held not to be a public authority, it needs to be examined as to whether the public authorities at the highest level could prompt the government agencies, public servants to contribute to this funds whose details are now sought to be kept opaque.
The petition also states that the victims of Covid-19 have a "Right to know" as to how much fund has been collected and how the same is being expended or is planned to be expended.
"The victims of Covid-19 who desperately need the funds to fight the deadly pandemic are spread all over the country and are not in a position to enforce their fundamental right of being treated and financially supported, by the use of funds collected in the PM CARES fund. Every victim of Covid-19 is interested in and has a right to know as to how much fund has been collected and how the same is being expended or is planned to be expended. These victims are not able to enforce their fundamental right to get medical treatment and financial support and hence the Petitioner, being a public-spirited person is compelled to file the present Writ Petition in the nature of PIL," the plea states.
It is further averred that the reluctance of the trustees of the Fund in divulging information as to the management of the fund raises a "profoundly serious apprehension" since the fund has been set up to fight Covid-19 which a public cause.
"It is further unfathomable as to why such secrecy is desired when the website of the fund clearly states that all persons engaged in the management of the fund are working on a pro bono capacity and shall have no personal interest in the fund," the plea states.
The matter is likely to be taken up by the High Court on June 10, 2020.