The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition which sought transfer of the funds from PM CARES to National Disaster Rel Fund.
The Court also held that there was no need for a fresh national disaster relief plan for COVID-19, and that the minimum standards of relief as issued under the Disaster Management Act prior to COVID-19 were enough.
The bench also clarified that the Centre will be free to transfer the funds to NDRF as it deems appropriate and that individuals are at liberty to donate to NDRF.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah was disposing of a PIL filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation which sought directions for evolving a new national plan under Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act to deal with COVID-19, and also the transfer of funds from PM CARES to NDRF.
The bench formulated the following questions :
The bench answered the questions as follows :
The Court clarified that :
(i) there is no statutory prohibition for the Union of India utilizing the NDRF for providing assistance in the fight of COVID-19 in accordance with the guidelines issued for administration of NDRF;
(ii) there is no statutory prohibition in making any contribution by any person or institution in the NDRF as per Section 46(1)(b)of the Act, 2005.
Existing National Disaster Plan sufficient to take care of COVID-19 pandemic
The Court noted that "the National Disaster Management Authority was well aware of the epidemics and had issued guidelines in the year 2008 itself which has been further detailed in Plan-2019. All aspects of the epidemics, all measures to contain an epidemic, preparedness, response, mitigation have been elaborately dealt in Plan, 2019".
"COVID-19 being a Biological and Public Health Emergency, which has been specifically covered by National Plan, 2019, which is supplemented by various plans, guidelines and measures, there is no lack or dearth of plans and procedures to deal with COVID-19", the judgment addeed.
Therefore, the Court held that the petitioners are not right in their submissions that there is no sufficient plan to deal with COVID19 pandemic.
"We do not find any merit in the claim of the petitioner that Union of India be directed to prepare a National Plan under Section 11 for COVID-19. National Plan, 2019 have already been there in place supplemented by various orders and measures taken by competent authorities under Disaster Management Act, 2005, there is no occasion or need to issue any direction to Union of India to prepare a fresh National Plan for COVID-19", the bench said.
The bench further observed that the Government of India vide order dated 14.03.2020 has decided to treat COVID-19, the pandemic, as a notified disaster for the purpose of providing assistance under State Disaster Response Fund, norms of assistance for ex-gratia payment to families of deceased persons, norms of assistance for COVID-19 positive persons requiring hospitalization and some other assistance to be provided from State Disaster Response Fund have been notified by the Government of India.
Therefore, the Court held that Union of India is not obliged to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of the Act, 2005 for COVID-19 and the guidelines issued under Section 12 providing for minimum standards of relief holds good for pandemic COVID-19 also.
Not for the Court to sit in judgment over the financial decisions of the government
The bench rejected the arguments of Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for the petitioner, that there is an embargo on donations to the NDRF.
"The submission that after the new guidelines(of 2015-16), it is not possible for any person or institution to make any contribution to the NDRF is, thus, misconceived and incorrect. According to the statutory provisions of Section 46 as well as new guidelines enforced with effect from financial year 2015-16 any person or institution can still make contribution to the NDRF", the Court said.
Based on the documents submitted by the Centre, the Court noted that the Centre has disbursed its share to State Disaster Response Funds in the wake of COVID-19.
"It is for the Central Government to take the decision as from which fund what financial measures are to be taken and it is neither for PIL petitioner to claim that any financial assistance be made from particular fund nor this Court to sit in judgment over the financial decisions of the Central Government", the judgment stated.
PM CARES a public charitable trust
"The PM CARES Fund is a charitable trust registered under the Registration Act, 1908 at New Delhi on 27.03.2020. The trust does not receive any Budgetary support or any Government money. It is not open for the petitioner to question the wisdom of trustees to create PM CARES fund which was constituted with an objective to extend assistance in the wake of public health emergency that is pandemic COVID-19", the Court further observed.
"The NDRF and PM CARES Fund are two entirely different funds with different object and purpose", the bench remarked.
It was on July 27 that a bench comprising Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy & MR Shah reserved judgment on the issue of transfer of funds from PMCARES Fund to National Disaster Relief Fund et up under the National Disaster Management Act.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for Centre For Public Interest Litigation and submitted that the setting up of the PMCARES Fund was in fact, a "Fraud Upon the Constitution".
The plea sought transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund which was set up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and setting up of a National Plan under Section 11, read with Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in order to deal with the current pandemic and, to lay down minimum standards of relief under Section 12 of DMA.
The plea further contends that the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities, despite the looming health crisis, and that the setting up of the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the DM Act. It further raises the issue of lack of transparency with regard to the PM Cares Fund, stating that it is not subject to CAG Audits and has also been proclaimed to be outside the purview of the RTI Act by not being under the definition of "public authority".
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