The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Central Government in a PIL seeking for transfer of all funds from PM CARES Fund which was set up to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
A Bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah heard the matter and issued notice to the Central Government and directed the Centre to file its reply affidavit within a period of 4 weeks. The plea, filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), seeks for the 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. It also states that the "Centre may be directed to utilize National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for the purpose of providing assistance in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in compliance with Section 46 of the DM Act, all the contributions/grants from individuals anf institutions shall be credited to the NDRF in terms of Section 46(1)(b) rather than to PM CARES Fund and all the funds collected in the PM Cares Fund till date may be directed to be transferred to the NDRF". The plea 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". "It is pertinent to mention herein that Section 72 of the DM Act provides that the provisions of the DM Act, shall have effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the DM Act." In light of the above submissions, the plea prays for the contributions to the PM CARES Fund to be transferred to NDRF, so that the statutory provisions of the DM Act, 2005 are followed in both letter and spirit. Today, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing on behalf of CPIL, submitted to the Court that the matter was not adversarial; they were not against the government, but were only seeking for their assistance. "The mandate has been completely overlooked by the government. The nation is suffering. Immediate intervention of the Supreme Court is required", Dave said. Justice Bhushan responded that the issue of National Plan and the minimum standard of relief under Section 12 of the DMA had already been argued and taken up in the suo moto matter regarding the problems and miseries of migrant workers. "The only issue that remains is the prayer regarding PM CARES Fund. We could tag that along with the suo moto case". Dave, however, insisted that the instant plea must be taken up separately and not be rolled over to the Suo Moto case. While Justice Kaul expressed the difficulty in passing interim orders at this stage, he stated that the Bench was inclined to issue notice. At this juncture, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta objected to the issuance of notice and requested for the petition to be provided to him. "Instead of issuing notice, give me a copy of the Petition. Let the copy be served. We will respond to it. Please avoid notice." Dave objected to this submission and informed the Bench that the Order was being dictated by the SG. The Bench, however, rejected this assertion. "We have issued notice. You say we listen to the GSG, then they say that we listen to you. How can you say that we are not hearing you? We consider it appropriate to issue notice, so we are issuing notice. We'll consider and hear the matter once the counter is filed. Let there be a response now." The matter has now been listed after 4 weeks, with the direction to the Centre to respond on the prayer seeking for transfer of funds from PM Cares Fund to NDRF.