The Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) has filed a rejoinder application before the Supreme Court, defending its plea for implementation of a 'National Plan' for combating the crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The matter is listed for hearing tomorrow before the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah.
National Relief Plan
The application, filed through Advocate Prashant Bhushan, states that the National Executive Committee is responsible to prepare a National Plan and to monitor its implementation, under Section 10(2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Further, it has submitted, "under Section 11(2), a National Plan is mandatorily required to be prepared by the National Executive Committee having regard to the National Policy and in consultation with the State Governments and expert bodies or organisations in the field of disaster management to be approved by the National Authority."
The organization has pointed out that in India Covid-19 has become a "humanitarian crisis" from being a medical health emergency, due to the arbitrary and ad hoc decision making of the Central Government.
It submitted that a whopping 865 major notifications dealing with Covid-19 have been passed by the Central Government till July 13, 2020, without planning, strategy, consultation and transparency.
It quoted the Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India and former Chief Economist of the World Bank, Mr. Kaushik Basu, saying:
"The way in which the lockdown was executed, the lockdown itself became the source of the virus's spread. By having people huddle together, infecting one another, and then having the same people travel hundreds of miles, the pandemic has been made much worse than it need have been."
The organization has therefore sought that the National Plan must clearly spell out a plan and detailed strategy which the governments and authorities must follow in order to contain the pandemic, provide medical relief to those affected by Covid-19 or need medical treatment for other diseases, and also provide a strategy to safeguard livelihoods and rights & dignity of the vulnerable sections of society.
It is submitted that the National Plan 2019, which was in existence before the pandemic started, is ex facie inadequate and limited in scope.
"The said plan does not deal with various issues which have become central in the current epidemic such as the lockdown, social distancing, lack of medical facilities and equipment, the plight of migrant workers, small industries, jobs and food security for millions," the application states.
The organization has argued that the people of the country, the public health officials must know what the government plans to do in a given situation or contingency if it were to arise.
"They must know under what situation a further lockdown can be declared and what are their entitlements in case a further lockdown were to be announced. It is submitted that such knowledge for the administration as well as for the public at large would help deal with the situation better as people would be aware of the steps government may take in the coming months and years," they have asserted.
Transfer contributions from PM CARES Fund to NDRF Fund
Responding to this issue, the Central Government had insisted that mere existence of a statutory fund (NDRF) under Section 46 of the DMA would not prohibit the creation of a different fund like PM Cares Fund for receiving voluntary donations.
Taking exception to this submission, the organization has reiterated that the PM Cares Fund has been created as a trust "without any authority of law".
They have submitted, "the trust deed, government orders, notification or circulars related to creation and operation of PM Cares Fund have not been made public and have been expressly refused to be disclosed in the RTI reply given by PMO.
The Central Government cannot escape from the mandatory working of Section 46 read with Section 72 of the DMA according to which NDRF should have been used for meeting Covid-19 pandemic and all voluntary contributions have to be deposited in the NDRF."
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.