As India reported over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases for the fourth consecutive day, BJP leaders have been tweeting the photo of one single ventilator with a PM CARES label, claiming it to be proof of how well the controversial fund is working.
The fund was set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March as a public charitable trust “aimed at strengthening the fight against COVID-19” with the PM, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as trustees.
While it invited generous donations from the public and received contributions from big corporations, sports stars and celebrities, the government has never publicly declared how much the fund has accumulated in total. According to reports, PM-CARES had collected Rs 6,500 crore within its first week.
In May, Anoo Bhuyan and Prachi Salve reported for IndiaSpend that the publicly declared donations received by the fund amounted to $1.27 billion (roughly Rs 9,670 crore).
Days before the report, the PMO had made its first announcement on the fund’s use, saying it would spend nearly Rs 2,000 crore on 50,000 “Made-in-India” ventilators for government-run COVID hospitals, Rs 100 crore to support coronavirus vaccine development efforts and Rs 1,000 crore to help migrant labourers.
On Monday, while a debate rages on the Delhi firm that will audit the fund, BJP leaders began tweeting the same photo of one ventilator to tout that the money was being used effectively. Some even went so far as to say that this was as good as an audit.
Some BJP leaders have also been using a chart of state-wise distribution of ventilators in India—sourced from the The Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy—to claim that the PM Cares fund will be used to double the existing number of machines in India.
Amit Malviya, the head of BJP’s IT cell, claimed this was audit enough.
As previously reported, the PM Cares fund will likely not be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) nor will it release information under the RTI on how the fund is used as the Prime Minister’s Office claims the fund is a not a ‘public authority’.
On Friday, the PM Cares website was updated to say Delhi firm SARC Associates had been appointed as auditors of the fund for 3 years. Economic Times reported that the same firm audits the PM National Relief Fund.
The firm is headed by Sunil Kumar Gupta, whom opposition parties have alleged is close to top BJP leadership, the Business Standard said.
Last week, the PMO had raised an objection in the Delhi High Court over the maintainability of a plea seeking to declare PM CARES Fund as a ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The high court was hearing a plea by Samyak Gangwal challenging a June 2 order of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), PMO, refusing to provide documents sought by him on the ground that PM Cares Fund is not a public authority under the RTI Act, the Press Trust of India reported.
The petition, filed through advocates Debopriyo Moulik and Ayush Shrivastava, said that on May 1, the petitioner had filed an RTI application seeking a copy of trust deed of PM CARES Fund, document or letter through which the fund was constituted and copy of the entire file including note sheets, letters, communications office memos or orders wherein the decision to constitute the fund was taken. However, on June 2, the CPIO of PMO refused the information on the ground that PM CARES is not a public authority under the ambit of RTI Act, the plea said while challenging this decision.
It said the PM CARES is a body owned or controlled by the appropriate government as its trustees include the Prime Minister, ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance.