The Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), through their counsel Advocate Prashant Bhushan, has moved Supreme Court seeking implementation of a 'National Plan' for combating the crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Petitioner-organization has also sought that the entire assistance program should be administered with the aid of National Disaster Response Force Fund (NDRF) and all the contributions/ grants received for the same, including all the monies that have been collected under the PM CARES Fund till date, should be transferred to the NDRF Fund.
The matter will be heard by the Supreme Court in the upcoming week.
National Relief Plan
The present PIL highlights the lack of coordination between the Central and the State Governments, and urges that a national level relief plan under Section 11 r/w Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is essential to lay down "minimum standards of relief" to be provided to the persons affected by the pandemic and/or the national lockdown.
It is averred that the imposition of a national lockdown was a "knee-jerk" reaction to the impending threat, causing immense hardship to migrant workers, students, tourists, etc. stranded across the country. In this context it is submitted,
"atleast now. i.e. after passing of more than two months since the issuance of the first national lockdown, there needs to be in place a broader and well thought out National Plan outlining inter alia a detailed coordination mechanism between Centre and states. The said National Plan needs to be prepared after due consultation with the State Governments and experts."
The plea further states that the incumbent National Plan pertains to the year 2019 which does not deal comprehensively with the situations arising out of the current pandemic and has no mention of measures like lockdown containment zones social distancing etc. in it.
"The part of the said National Plan which deals with 'Biological and Public Health Emergencies' does not mention any of the measures that are being taken today in order to contain the instant pandemic and therefore, unduly harsh disruptions are being caused in enforcing the same," the plea states.
Transfer contributions from PM CARES Fund to NDRF Fund
The second prayer raised by the Petitioner pertains to utilization of the NDRF and the NDRF Fund to combat the crisis.
In this regard the Petitioner has submitted that even though there is a provision for National Disaster Response Fund under Section 46 of the DM Act, 2005, the Central Government, "for reasons best known to it" has acted in complete derogation of the said provision and has come up with the PM CARES Fund.
The Petitioner further bats for utilization of the NDRF Fund as the same is subject to CAG audit and RTI Act 2005, unlike the PM CARES Fund.
On May 29, 2020, the Prime Minister's Office had stated in response to an RTI application that the PM CARES Fund does not come under the RTI Act, 2005. It is also not clear if the PM CARES Fund can be subjected to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
In this backdrop the plea states,
"As per the said RTI reply received from Prime Minister's office, PM CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. It is to be noted that Centre has been refraining from divulging information about the specific utilization of crores of rupees that have been contributed to the PM-CARES Fund till date," and urges the Court to use the NDRF to deal with the present crisis.