New Delhi: A circular issued by the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance to all the officers and staff appealing to them to “contribute their one day’s salary every month till March 2021 to the PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund to aid the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic” has raised many eyebrows. It looks as though Centre is commandeering these donations – if an officer does not want to donate, they need to say so in writing.
`Donation by default’
Issued on April 17 by the director and head of the Department of Revenue, the circular states:
“Any officer or staff having objection to it may intimate drawing and disbursing officer, Department of Revenue in writing mentioning his/her employee code latest by 20.4.2020.”
What has irked the officials is that the order barely gives them a choice. “Unlike several state governments, which have similarly asked their officers and staff to donate to the CM’s Relief Fund by giving their approval in writing, this order takes it for granted that the officers have given their consent to the proposed deduction. By asking them to refuse in writing it puts them in an awkward and difficult situation,” said a senior IAS officer.
`Why donate to only PM CARES’
Some officials also questioned why the demand for donating to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was being made, when it was a private fund. “What if an officer wants to donate to some other government agency, institution or NGO engaged in relief work related to the lockdown?” asked another officer.
Questions are also being asked on whether it is okay to seek a day’s salary in donation from even junior officers, who may not be saving as much as the seniors do. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that donations should not be sought in the form of a command.
“Even when it came to allowing people an opportunity to postpone their equated monthly instalments by three months in view of the financial distress caused by COVID-19, the proposal said they would need to ask in writing for such a deferment, it was not an automatic assumption. Here, the government is assuming in advance that all the staff would agree to a cut and those who do not will have to say so in writing,” the IAS officer said.
`Centre within rights to seek such donations, but why to a private fund’
In the backdrop of several ministries already urging their staff to contribute a day’s salary out of their salary for April 2020 to the PM CARES Fund, an IAS officer said while the government can be justified in seeking such donations in a time of crisis as this, they question is why are such donations being sought for a private fund.
He said the Centre has submitted in the Delhi high court that PM-CARES is not a public fund. So, he asked if it was justified to transfer a day’s salary from the government exchequer to it. Also, the donation was being sought as a “default option” rather than a purely voluntary act.
PMNRF did not allow donations from government accounts, PSUs; PM-CARES does
Stating that the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund was meant for natural disasters and therefore a different fund was needed for meeting the requirements of a pandemic, the officer said the government was well within its right to not use the PMNRF which was launched by then PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948 to assist displaced persons from Pakistan and was later used for providing relief to families of those killed in natural calamities and victims of major accidents and riots. “The key difference between PMNRF and PM-CARES is that the government and PSUs could not donate in the former whereas that option has been kept open now.”
The senior officer said corporates have been making donations to PM-CARES and it is being said that its funds would go for the welfare of the poor. “But we need to bear in mind that this fund has got donations of only a few thousand crores whereas the government exchequer is much bigger. The annual salary and pension outgo of the states and Centre itself is between Rs 12-15 lakh crore and setting aside even 10% of this for relief of the poor would provide Rs 1.2-1.5 lakh crore annually for them. So ideally salary cuts should be used for welfare schemes for the poor and this PM-CARES fund should be used for providing relief to the industrialists and businesses.”
Note: The story was updated with a correction of the figures that the senior officer mentioned in the last paragraph. An earlier version said that the salary outgo was Rs 25 lakh.