New Delhi: Despite concerns raised by various political parties around the Narendra Modi government allegedly using the PM CARES Fund for pushing the BJP’s cause during COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament on Friday failed to reach a consensus on examining the government’s role during the pandemic or in utilising the Fund.
Earlier, The Wire had also reported on how the Modi government has been vehemently blocking RTI queries seeking more information on the fund’s donors and users. Citing a controversial Supreme Court statement, the Prime Minister’s Office refused to part with the details. In response to a query filed by a Greater Noida-based activist Vikrant Togad in April, that asked 12 questions, the PMO had refused to furnish information about the fund saying: “It is not open to the applicant under the RTI Act to bundle a series of requests into one application unless these requests are treated separately and paid for accordingly.”
Now in parliament too, the government does not seem keen to provide any information to the PAC that scrutinises key reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General and has deliberated on important issues such as 2G spectrum allocation in the past.
On Friday, when the committee met for the first time after the pandemic broke out to discuss the government’s response to COVID-19, its chairman and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, urged the members to act in the interest of the nation to arrive at a consensus. But according to NDTV, members of the BJP, who were present in large numbers, opposed the move and tried to stall the proceedings that sought to scrutinise the Centre’s actions.
They also found support in Biju Janata Dal leader Bhartuhari Mahtani. From the opposition, whose members were largely outnumbered, T.R. Balu of the DMK was vocal in his support for the Chowdhury’s proposal.
NDTV reported that some opposition leaders claimed that the reason behind the BJP government refusing to scrutinise the Centre’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to stop a deeper look into how the PM CARES fund was raised and utilised. It has been created in a way that keeps it out of the purview of an audit by the CAG.
No wonder, senior BJP leader Bhupender Yadav staunchly opposed Chowdhury’s attempt to bring the PM CARES Fund under closer scrutiny of the PAC. He said its funding was not sanctioned by Parliament and so the panel had no locus standi to take it up.
The Fund was set up by the Centre as a war chest for national emergencies and provides for taking individual and private sector donations. It has also been kept out of the purview of government audit and the norms only provide for a scrutiny by “independent” auditors.