Tuesday, 07 July, 2020
Exclusives - 08 April, 2020

Corporates, celebrities pledge millions but 'PM CARES' fund faces criticism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing criticism for creating a new coronavirus relief fund when about $500 million was lying unspent in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)... #PMCARESfacescriticism

Samuel Mathai

Bhopal: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing criticism for creating a new coronavirus relief fund when about $500 million was lying unspent in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), even as top businesses and celebrities pledge millions of dollars in new donations. (Inquest.org.in on 30th March 2020 has published an article titled “What is the need of PM-CARES Fund when PMNRF already exists?”)

Prime Minister Modi launched the “Prime Minister Citizen Assurance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) fund” to provide relief to those affected by the coronavirus that has infected more than 5,000 people in India, and killed 149 so far. The fund is expected to help millions of labourers, many of whose lives were devastated by a nationwide lockdown ordered by Modi to stem the epidemic.

According to the main opposition Congress party the new fund lacks transparency, and it has questioned why it was created and why it couldn’t be merged with the PMNRF, which was setup in 1948 and has a balance of 38 billion rupees ($498.6 million). However, Modi’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The name of the controversial fund has been so designed as to mean that PM is personally caring (PM CARES) and the words are tactically chosen to suit the title. It is cheap politics during turmoil and calamity on the part of the government. When there already exists one Fund, namely, Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) with “pucca” accounting and auditing, what is the need for a separate fund with only BJP ministers as its members. This will lead to rampant corruption. It certainly appears that Modi's creation of the new funding apparatus - with the unsurprising appellation, PM CARES - is also meant to serve promotion of his own image.

The rules framed for this new Fund & existing PM Relief Fund makes interesting reading and indicates how substantial diversionary adjustments can be done. It's wrong because it doesn't have transparency set of rules, no opposition leader or civil society members. Yes, it will be good if PMO can explain the logic behind the new fund name.

According to a Reuters report, some aid groups are also concerned that the new, high-profile fund might divert resources away from grassroots humanitarian efforts. “Why did they need to create the PM CARES fund? Societal consideration may be a priority for business houses but sometimes it becomes a race to be in good books,” said Namita Gopal, a Mumbai-based consultant specialising in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

“All corporates are utilising their CSR funds through this route which is raising concerns that other non-profits may not get funds in the year ahead.” India mandates that large companies annually spend at least 2% of average net profits over the past three years on CSR activities, the report says.

Whereas, those who are donating in PM CARES Fund are not donations, they are fooling the nation. They are giving CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) money into this which anyhow they have to give. Instead of donating in PM National Relief Fund they created new platform PM CARES Fund so that they can fool the entire country.

Bollywood actors, cricketers and prominent businessmen have pledged to support Modi’s fund. Less than two weeks after its launch, private firms have committed at least $295 million, according to a Reuters tally of announced contributions and details from lobby group FICCI.

Modi has said the fund would benefit the “poorest of the poor” and strengthen disaster management. On Tuesday, the ruling party’s IT head, Amit Malviya, defended the fund, saying on Twitter it was “far more adequate and transparent” than the older relief fund. However, he did not elaborate.

The new fund, announced in late March, is chaired by Modi and board members include the defence Rajnath Singh, finance Nirmala Sitaraman, and home minister Amit Shah. Corporations and individuals can contribute, and the government has encouraged small donations too.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs on March 30 sent a letter titled “AN APPEAL” to top companies, saying donations would be counted under CSR obligations. It urged companies that had already met obligations to go “over and above” and use donations to the new fund to offset future CSR obligations.

Modi has celebrated on Twitter as donations have flowed in from companies including Mukesh Ambani’s oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries. Some state-owned oil companies, meanwhile, were instructed by the government to contribute, one industry source said, adding that donations and the crisis in the oil market could contribute to cuts in capital expenditure plans.

“There is progressively more frustration in general about how much money is going to the government,” the source grumbled.

At New Delhi’s top public hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a promised donation of about $66,000 from a state-run defence company for scarce protective health gear was diverted to PM CARES, according to Dr Srinivas Rajkumar, the general secretary of Resident Doctors’ Association there.

Rajkumar told Reuters that a representative of the defence company, Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), had told him the funds would “no longer be part of CSR donations ... because the Ministry of Defence has directed all their pending CSR funds and one-day salary be donated directly to PM CARES”. BDL did not respond to requests for comment.

A Defence Ministry spokesman, Bharat Bhushan Babu, told Reuters BDL had never committed to donating to AIIMS and that BDL’s board had decided on its own to donate to PM CARES.

The doctors’ association has also protested against a hospital plan to deduct one day’s salary from staff to donate to PM CARES Fund. The association says contributions should be voluntary and it was more important to buy health gear. AIIMS, in a letter on Tuesday, rejected the doctors’ complaint and said anyone who did not want to contribute to the fund’s “noble cause” would have to formally opt-out.

Famed historian Ramchandra Guha has rightly maintained, “One wonders, is Coronavirus or our political system which is more dangerous to our country, people and democracy. Politics over people's miseries is the brand of the current dispensation. Subverting a calamity of this magnitude to personal publicity shows the moral bankruptcy of a Prime Minister with an abysmally negative EQ. This is basically encouraging sycophancy, chamchagiri and loyalty to the Prime Minister.”

Whatever the situation, it is exploited for enhancing personality cult by the current regime. The criticism by Guha is very correct and timely, but who would listen to sane voices when everyone is busy in exploiting tragic situation of migrant workers.

(With inputs from the Reuters)

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