BJP blocks Parliament panel review of PM-CARES Fund
The Centre's response to the coronavirus pandemic and the PM-CARES Fund will most likely not be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blocked a move regarding the same on Friday. In the past, PAC, one of the most important parliamentary panels, has taken up matters like the 2G scandal. But, this time around, it was rendered toothless.
Created on March 28, 2020, The Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) is meant to help India deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fund has Home Minister, Defense Minister, and Finance Minister as its trustees. Donations to this fund are tax-exempt and also fall under corporate social responsibility's ambit (CSR).
Barely a week after it was launched, PM-CARES Fund raised Rs. 6,500 crore. Among the biggest donors were the Tata Group (Rs. 500 crore), Aditya Birla Group (Rs. 400 crore), Reliance Industries (Rs. 500 crore), and Adani Group (Rs. 100 crore).
However, the lack of transparency in the fund got the Centre ire. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who heads PAC and is also Congress' leader in the Lok Sabha, appealed to the members to think about the country's well-being before arriving at a conclusion. He said the Centre's response to the pandemic and PM-CARES Fund must be examined, but BJP leaders didn't agree.
The BJP members of the committee, led by senior leader Bhupender Yadav, put up a unified front against Chowdhury's proposal. Biju Janata Dal's Bhartruhari Mahtab supported them. The saffron party argued that since the funding wasn't sanctioned by the Parliament, a parliamentary panel shouldn't scrutinize it either. According to an NDTV report, DMK leader TR Balu was among the few who stood with Chowdhury.
Separately, the opposition members claimed that BJP is fearful of a closer look at PM-CARES Fund. To note, the fund doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of CAG either. Earlier, the government had declared PM-CARES Fund will be judged by only "independent auditors." With this latest development, BJP members, who came in nearly full attendance, ensured that another way of scrutinizing PM-CARES is blocked.
On a related note, the PAC agreed that the construction of border roads along Line of Actual Control will be reviewed. The procurement of high-altitude clothing for the armed forces will also be reviewed. This assumes significance in the wake of last month's Indo-China clash.
This week, the Centre defended PM-CARES Fund in the Supreme Court when an NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), sought the transfer of money collected to the already existing National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). In response, Centre said, "Mere existence of a statutory fund (NDRF) would not prohibit the creation of a different fund like PM-CARES Fund which provides for voluntary donations."