New Delhi, Aug 18 (PTI) Holding that financial planning is in the domain of the Centre, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to direct transfer of contributions made to the PM CARES Fund for battling the COVID-19 pandemic to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
The top court also ruled that at this need of the hour no exception can be taken to the constitution of a public charitable trust PM CARES Fund to have necessary financial resources to meet the emergent situation, adding this fund and the NDRF are entirely different funds with separate object and purpose. The fund was launched by the Centre after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The court verdict prompted several BJP leaders and union ministers to target the Congress with party president J P Nadda saying it was a 'resounding blow to the nefarious designs' of its leader Rahul Gandhi and his 'band of rent a cause' activists.
Rubbishing the Congress' criticism on the issue, another BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said 'transparency is writ large in the PM CARES Fund'.
But the Congress said the judgement is a 'body blow to transparency and accountability' of the government to the people.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the apex court let go an opportunity to bring in transparency in the fund which has 'its own opaque and murky rules' and, thereby, deviated from the belief that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant' Speaking to reporters, Prasad said the PM CARES Fund is a registered public trust created to fight emergencies like the coronavirus, and added it has so far contributed Rs 3,100 crore in the battle against the pandemic.
Out of this, Rs 2,000 crore was spent on procuring over 50,000 ventilators, Rs 1,000 crore was given to states to help migrant labourers and Rs 100 crore for vaccine research, he said.
This is the highest number of ventilators made available for critical care in one go since independence, he added.
The verdict was given on a petition by an 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 petitioner had submitted that this new fund should not have been constituted when the NDRF is already in place to take care of disasters.
'The funds collected in the PM CARES Fund are entirely different funds which are funds of a public charitable trust and there is no occasion for issuing any direction to transfer the said funds to the NDRF.
'The prayer of the petitioner to direct all the funds collected in the PM CARES Fund till date to be transferred to the NDRF is refused,' a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said in its 75-page verdict.
The court said when the Centre is providing financial assistance to the States to contain COVID-19 it is not for any PIL petitioner to say it should give amount from this fund or that fund.
'The financial planning is in the domain of the Central government, which financial planning is made after due deliberation and consideration. We, thus, do not find any substance in the submission of the petitioner that there is any statutory restriction/prohibition in utilization of NDRF for COVID-19,' said the bench also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah.
The court said there is no statutory prohibition for the Centre utilising the NDRF for providing assistance in the fight of COVID-19 in accordance with the guidelines issued for administration of this fund.
'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,' it said, rejecting the submissions of the petitioner that there was no sufficient plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court said there is also no statutory prohibition in making any contribution by any person or institution in the NDRF as per Section 46(1)(b) of the Disaster Management Act, Act, 2005.
The contribution by any person or by any institution in PM CARES Fund is voluntary and it is open for any person or institution to make a contribution to it, the court said.
It also said the National Disaster Management Plan prepared by the Centre deals with all aspects of the Biological and Public Health Emergencies in systematic and planned manner and thus there is no need of separate plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PIL had sought a direction to the government to prepare, notify and implement a national plan under the Disaster Management Act to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
BJP president Nadda said the country very well knows that the orchestrated smear campaign against PM CARES Fund is an attempt by the Congress to wash its sins while Prasad underscored that the fund will be audited.
Prasad also accused Gandhi of sparing no effort to weaken the country's resolve in its fight against COVID-19.
The apex court has destroyed the 'conspiracy' sponsored by them, Prasad said.
'The verdict by the Supreme Court on PM CARES is a resounding blow to the nefarious designs of Rahul Gandhi & his band of 'rent a cause' activists. It shows that the truth shines despite the ill intent and malicious efforts of the Congress party and its associates,' Nadda tweeted.
Coming down heavily on Gandhi, the BJP chief said his 'rants' have been repeatedly dismissed by the common man who has 'overwhelmingly' contributed to the PM CARES Fund.
With the highest court also pronouncing its verdict, will Rahul and his 'rent a cause activist army' mend their ways or embarrass themselves further, Nadda asked.
The BJP chief alleged that the Gandhi family treated Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) as its 'personal fiefdom for decades and brazenly transferred citizens' hard-earned money from PMNRF to its family trusts'.
Gandhi had on Monday tweeted 'PM CARES for Right To Improbity' while tagging a news report which alleged that the Prime Minister's Office had denied an RTI application seeking information on the Fund.
'And once again the faces of habitual liars stand exposed. The verdict of Hon'ble Supreme Court on #PMCARES is a stinging slap on the face of those whose single point agenda is to mislead people,' Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Twitter.
'The 'King of Con' talking about transparency can now introspect as to what makes him a constant disappointment not just for his party but for the entire nation. Perhaps @RahulGandhi is so used to insults and humiliations that he can't keep calm without embarrassing himself,' he said in a series of tweets. PTI PKS SJK RKS KR SKC RT GSN GSN GSN