The fund without a care for the RTI

Synopsis: The PM openly seeks support for donations towards PM CARES. But given the non-transparent nature of this fund, it needs to be closely scrutinized.


Transparency is the cornerstone of any democracy. The government demonstrated it with the enactment of the RTI Act. However, recent incidents around the PM CARES fund raise many questions. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has consistently denied giving information of PM CARES under RTI Act.

What makes PM CARES unique from other such funds?

The funds like the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) have been created by the constitution. They are thus subject to parliamentary supervision and are audited by CAG. Moreover, their information can be available by RTI.

Another such fund is the statutorily constituted National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), which was established under the Disaster Management (DM) Act of 2005. 

In addition to these, Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1948, constituted the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). The fund is recognized as a Trust under the Income-Tax Act and has the President of India and the Leader of Opposition also as trustees.

The Centre now created a new trust with the Prime Minister and his Ministers only for PM CARES. While all these funds are public authorities and thus open to public scrutiny, PM CARES is not.

What are the issues with the establishment of PM CARES?

PM CARES has not been established under any statuette or notification, so it does not come under the definition of public authority under RTI. But it still uses the designation of the Prime Minister, designated symbols of the nation like Ashok Chakra and the tricolour. The amount received by the Fund does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India and is thus beyond the reach of CAG.

The trust is neither owned nor controlled by the central government or any of the State governments. But the Prime Minister is the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees in PM CARES.

An ordinance was promulgated to amend Income Tax Act, 1961 and declare that the donations to the PM CARES Fund “would qualify for 80G benefits for 100% exemption“.

Driven by these inconsistencies, a petitioner/lawyer, filed a petition seeking PM-CARES fund to be declared as the State under Article 12 of the Constitution. In another plea, he had sought for the fund to be designated as a “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

What is the current status of PM CARES?

After many people challenged PM CARES in the court of law, the Government has conceded it to be a public charitable trust, but still maintains that it is not a ‘public authority.

What should be the way forward?

If we seek a legal route, Section 19 of the Indian Trusts Act mandates the trustees should present full and accurate information about the amount that the trust has and receives. Because of this statutory access, all information about the PM CARES Fund should be accessible as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.

But beyond the legal curtain, the government should act as per its oath of transparency and make the PM CARES open and transparent.

Source: This post is based on the article “The fund without a care for the RTI” published in The Hindu on 30th September 2021.

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