New Delhi: Salary contributions from over 100 public sector undertakings to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) fund amounted to just under Rs 155 crore, according to an Indian Express report.
This is in addition to Rs 2,400 crore that these PSUs have contributed to the body from their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, the report says.
This information was revealed after the newspaper has filed Right to Information (RTI) applications with more than 120 PSUs. The highest contributor was oil giant Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), which gave Rs 29.06 crore to the fund from staff salaries. ONGC had also chipped in with the highest contribution from a PSU’s CSR funds, donating Rs 300 crore.
Employees of BSNL also contributed Rs 11.43 crore, RTI information received by the Indian Express show. “Overall, the RTI responses show, 24 PSUs gave Rs 1 crore or more to the fund from staff salaries,” the report says.
The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) donated Rs 23.99 crore from staff salaries and Rs 225 crore from its CSR funds. The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) donated Rs 7.58 crore, which was the fifth highest-contributor in terms of staff salaries, accord to the Indian Express.
Other major donations came from Railtel Corporation, which contributed Rs 5.30 crore from CSR and Rs 15.03 lakh as staff contribution, apart from Rs 6.70 crore as donation under 80G of the Income Tax Act.
The PM-CARES Fund was set up on March 27, 2020 as an emergency measure for disaster relief during the coronavirus pandemic. The Prime Minister’s Office – which manages the fund – has refused to divulge information under the RTI Act, claiming that the fund is not a “public authority” under the Act.
By March 31 itself, the body had a corpus of Rs 3,076 crore of which Rs 3,075.85 crore was listed as “voluntary contributions”.
A previous report by IE in August had said that as many as 38 PSUs contributed in excess of Rs 2,105 crore to the PM-CARES fund.
The newspaper said it has received responses from 121 PSUs by December 4. Of these, 71 said they contributed to PM-CARES from both staff salaries and CSR funds. “In all, the responses show, 101 PSUs contributed Rs 154.70 crore from salaries and 98 gave a total of Rs 2,422.87 crore from CSR funds,” the report adds.
Since it was set up, the PM-CARES fund has faced questions about transparency. While some questioned the need to establish a separate body when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) existed, others objected to the PMO’s refusal to put information about the fund in the public domain.
The fund has also faced legal challenges, but the Supreme Court in August rejected a petition to transfer money out of PM-CARES to the National Disaster Response Fund.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra raised the issue in parliament, saying the origin of the fund is “steeped in opacity” and that the fund rips apart the federal structure of governance.
She also criticised PSUs for donating large sums of money to the funds, adding that without an audit, “the conflict of interest is writ large”. She added that the PM-CARES fund diverts CSR funds away from local communities into a “dark hole where not even a speck of light can enter”.