A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R S Reddy and M R Shah rebuked petitioner NGO ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL)’, which was represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Prashant Bhushan, for making false statements about the government tweaking the rules to shut out individual and corporate donations to NDRF and route those to PMCF.
The bench said individuals and corporate houses could still donate to NDRF under the rules, which have been in place since 2015-16. Dismissing the PIL, it said, “Submission that after the new guidelines, it is not possible for any person or institution to make any contribution to the NDRF is, thus, misconceived and incorrect.
“According to Section 46 (of Disaster Management Act) as well as new guidelines enforced with effect from financial year 2015-16, any person or institution can still make contribution to the NDRF. Secondly, the PMCF has been constituted in the year 2020 after outbreak of pandemic Covid-19 whereas the new guidelines came into force with effect from 2015-16, on which date the PMCF was not in existence, hence, the submission that new guidelines were amended to benefit the PMCF is wholly misconceived.”
Justice Bhushan, who wrote the 75-page judgment, said, “The PMCF is a public charitable trust and is not a government fund. The mere fact that administration of the trust is vested in trustees, ie, a group of people, will not itself take away the public character of the trust. 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 the PMCF, which was constituted with an objective to extend assistance in the wake of a public health emergency that is pandemic Covid-19.”
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The PM is the ex-officio chairperson of PMCF with ministers of defence, home and finance as ex-officio trustees. The PM can nominate three trustees to the board who are eminent in the fields of research, health, science, public administration and philanthropy.
The SC said the pandemic highlighted the need for immediate enhancement in medical infrastructure and creation of funds to contain Covid-19. “At this hour, no exception can be taken to the constitution of a public charitable trust, namely PMCF, to have necessary financial resources to meet the emergent situation,” it said.
The SC also rejected the petitioner’s accusation that the Centre had put a statutory bar on sending NDRF money to help states fight the pandemic. Referring to point-by-point rebuttal by solicitor general Tushar Mehta and documents attached to the counter affidavit, the bench said the Centre had on April 3 released the first instalment of Rs 11,092 crore of Rs 22,184 crore, which was the central share of State Disaster Relief Management Fund (SDRMF). The highest amount of Rs 1,611 crore was allotted to Maharashtra while the lowest Rs 6 crore went to Goa.
“As there is nothing on record that any state has exceeded the expenditure in excess of the balance in the SDRMF, there is no occasion of asking for more funds by the state from NDRF,” the bench said.
“When the central government is providing financial assistance to states to contain Covid-19, it is not for any PIL petitioner to say that the Centre should give amounts from this fund or that fund. 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 utilisation of NDRF for Covid-19,” it said.