Why new PM CARES when there's already PMNRF? Modi's COVID fund triggers twitter debate

Why new PM CARES when there's already PMNRF? Modi's COVID fund triggers twitter debate
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to establish the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or the PM CARES Fund, amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, has triggered a controversy with many questioning the logic behind it. 

Twitter saw a heated debate following a thread that questioned the need to set up a separate fund at this moment when there is already an effective Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

Joining the debate, historian Ramachandra Guha said the new fund could be a 'national tragedy'. “Why a new fund when a Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund already exists? And why the self-aggrandizing name, PM-CARES? Must a colossal national tragedy also be (mis)used to enhance the cult of personality?” he tweeted. 

Guha told Onmanorama that he thought it was “morally wrong” (to set up a new fund).

The debate was triggered by a tweet by one Advocate Manoj. He raised several questions as to the newly-established fund. They are:

1. When was it decided to form a public charitable trust?

2. Compelling reasons to do so?

3. Advantages of forming a new PCT as against the existing PMNRF?

4. Where do we get to see/read the bye-laws?

5. Under which act it is registered?

6. When & where the registration happened?

7. Did the sub-registrar visit the prime minister's residence of did the PM travel to sub-registrar's office?

8. Is the settler/chairman - PM of India or Narendra Modi?

9. Other members - in personal names or Official capacity?

10. What is the registered office address of the PM-CARES Trust?

However, he said he has not examined the legal aspects of the fund. 

Replying to the thread, PRN Mohan, a twitter user asked if it was legal for the prime minister to form a trust being the head of a nation. “Isn't it a conflict of interest? How about donations and their utilization? Recollect a trust created by AR Antulay, CM of Mah in 80s in the name of Indira Pratisthan. Mrs G, was not consulted, she disowned, he resigned,” he tweeted.

Subhendu Bhattacharya, another twitter user, defended the government action, citing rules regarding epidemics.

PM is PM under oath and disaster invocation allows the legislation to create such fund. Read the act of epidemics, your most questions would be understood. Crony or noble-nation requires a huge fund to fight and at the same time have stress for social benevolence. whither doubt?” 

The government recently set up the PM CARES Fund, with the objective of dealing with emergency situations, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Contributors to the fund will enjoy tax benefits, it has been announced.

"People from all walks of life expressed their desire to donate to India's war against COVID-19. Respecting that spirit, the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund has been constituted. This will go a long way in creating a healthier India," PM Modi announced in a tweet on Saturday.

The prime minister is the chairman of the trust that includes the home minister, the finance minister the defence minister

The Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established entirely with public contributions and does not get any budgetary support.

PMNRF accepts voluntary contributions from individuals, organisations, trusts, companies and institutions etc. All contributions towards PMNRF are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G). 

The resources of the PMNRF are utilized to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc.

The disbursement out of the fund is made at the discretion of the prime minister, and in accordance with the prime minister's directions.

CSR exemption

The Ministry of  Corporate Affairs has said that donations made by companies to the PM CARES Fund will be considered as expenditure on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The decision comes days after the government decided to include corporates' spending on checking coronavirus as part of CSR.

The corporate social responsibility rules make it mandatory for large Indian firms to set aside at least 2 per cent of their average net profit for socially responsible expenditures.

The norms are applicable to firms with at least Rs 5 crore net profit or Rs 1,000 crore turnover or Rs 500 crore net worth. The list of activities included under CSR is decided by the government.

Fund floods

Contributions have been flooding to the PM Cares fund with corporate honchos and celebrities as well as laymen keeping aside huge sums for the fund. 

India's leading digital payments and financial services platform Paytm has said it is aiming to contribute Rs 500 crore to the PM CARES Fund.

Urging users to do their bit in the fight against Covid-19, the company said that for every contribution or any other payment made on Paytm using the wallet, UPI and Paytm Bank debit card, the company will contribute an extra up to Rs 10.

Adani Foundation has contributed Rs 100 crore while T-series honcho Bhushan Kumar has pledged Rs 11 crore.

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has given Rs 25 crore while cricketer-turned-BJP MP Gautam Gambhir contributed Rs 1 crore. 

“When a Prime Minister National Relief Fund under the administration of Government of India and audited by CAG is available for taking donations, why are corporate entities jumping over each other to contribute their might to a new fund which has Narendra Modi as a trustee?,” wondered a Twitter handle going by the name Just a common man