New Delhi: PM CARES fund has been constituted with an objective to extend assistance in the wake of public health emergency like COVID-19 and no exception can be taken at this need of the hour in its constitution, the Supreme Court Tuesday said.
The apex court noted that it was created as a dedicated national fund with a objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation as posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide relief to the affected.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said it is for the Central government to take the decision as from which fund what financial measures are to be taken and it is neither for PIL petitioner to claim that any financial assistance be made from particular fund nor this Court to sit in judgement over the financial decisions.
The observations came on a PIL, filed by NGO ''Centre for Public Interest Litigation, seeking a direction that all the money collected under the PM CARES Fund for the COVID-19 pandemic should be transferred to the NDRF.
The Centre had told the top court that Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance, Government of India are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
"The Chairperson of the Board of Trustees (Prime Minister) shall have the power to nominate three trustees to the Board of Trustees who shall be eminent persons in the field of research, health, science, social work, law, public administration and philanthropy. Any person appointed a Trustee shall act in a pro bono capacity," the Centre had submitted.
Taking note of the submissions, the apex court said the PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust and is not a government fund,.
The bench said it consists entirely of voluntary contributions from individuals/organisations and does not get any budgetary support.
The mere fact that administration of the Trust is vested in trustees, i.e., a group of people, will not itself take away its public character, the apex court said.
It noted that the contributions made by individuals and institutions in the PM CARES Fund are to be released for public purpose to fulfil the objective of the trust.
"The PM CARES Fund is a charitable trust registered under the Registration Act, 1908 at New Delhi on March 27, 2020. The trust does not receive any Budgetary support or any Government money.
"It is not open for the petitioner to question the wisdom of trustees to create PM CARES fund which was constituted with an objective to extend assistance in the wake of public health emergency that is pandemic COVID-19," the bench also comprising justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, said.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the NGO, had argued that he was not questioning the bona fide of constitution of PM CARES Fund.
He had submitted that PM CARES Fund should not have been constituted when NDRF is already in place to take care of disasters.
Dave also said that NDRF is audited by CAG but PM CARES Fund is not audited by CAG rather by a private Chartered Accountant.
The apex court, however, sid that the nature of NDRF and PM CARES Fund are entirely different.
"The guidelines issued under Disaster Management Act, 2005 with regard to NDRF specifically provides for audit of the NDRF by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India whereas for public charitable trust there is no occasion for audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India.
"At this need of the hour no exception can be taken to the constitution of a public charitable trust, namely, PM CARES Fund to have necessary financial resources to meet the emergent situation," the bench said.