Last year when the pandemic hit the country, the citizens, corporates and most importantly the government mobilised and deployed huge resources to fight the effects of the virus. Of many steps taken, the prime minister decided to set up a trust called the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund).
The objective of the trust was drawn keeping the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like the one posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected. The support given by the people to the new fund was tremendous and in just 5 days the fund collected Rs 3,076 crore.
Immediate criticism started flowing in from the usual quarters. Some started calling the fund a personal project of the prime minister and some went on to even call it a scam of some sort, some even wanted the trust accounts to be audited on day 1 of its formation. A year on, I review and analyse how the Trust has performed and put some fake news and claims to rest.
Why PM CARES Fund and not PM National Relief Fund
The usual suspects have stated that why the existing framework of PMNRF was not being used and why was there any need for setting a new fund/trust. They have made this the basis of some sort of a conspiracy theory and pushed various fake news, attempting to seed this doubt in the minds of their readers.
Firstly, the PMNRF is a very highly stagnant trust with most of the corpus stuck in perpetual bonds and illiquid instruments with various banks.
The PMNRF has only about 15 percent of its corpus available in liquid cash that can be deployed for trust purposes. The receipt and payments account of the PMNRF can be accessed from PM India Website and these figures can be verified by anyone.
While augmenting the fight against COVID, such low liquidity would be disastrous. What was needed in March 2020 was quick and effective deployment of funds to mobilise resources.
Those who have doubts regarding PM CARES Fund must first explain why Rs 3,800 crores is lying idle in bank accounts of PMNRF. What relief is provided by keeping the money in the bank and who benefits!
Outrageous claims like 'no CAG audit and that it is a scam
The most outrageous claim regarding PM CARES Fund has been that the trust is not audited by CAG and that the entire money does not go through under the checks and balances. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Firstly, the PM National Relief fund is also not audited by CAG.
But that seems to be acceptable to everyone since the inception of the fund by Jawaharlal Nehru. Another dodgy aspect regarding PMNRF is that the fund has a representative from Indian National Congress, a political party. How is this acceptable to the usual naysayers?
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to note that PM CARES Fund is a registered charitable organisation with the Prime Minister at its helm along with three other cabinet ministers in the official position on the trust. The trust accounts are duly audited by a chartered accountant licensed under the CA Act. Both the Trust's are not public authorities and therefore not covered by Right to Information Act.
Does it mean that there is no transparency? Obviously not. The PM CARES Fund regularly updates the details of the receipts and payments on its website and the data is freely available. Obviously, the audits would be done upon closure of the financial year and not at the whims and fancies of the conspiracy theory makers.
How is PM-Cares Money Deployed?
The Balance Sheet for 31.03.2020 was drawn and uploaded for PM CARES Trust which was duly audited as well. The trust was formed in last week of March 2020 hence the first statements are for only five days. In less than a week, PM CARES was able to raise approximately Rs 3,100 crore. This is in fact a testament to the popularity and trust the prime minister enjoys.
In May 2020 itself PM CARES decided to allocate Rs 3,100 crore for fight against COVID-19. Out of Rs 3,100 crore, a sum of approximately Rs 2,000 crore was earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, Rs 1,000 crore was to be used for the care of migrant labourers and Rs 100 crore was for supporting vaccine development. Please note the last point and the date carefully. 100 Crores for vaccine development in May 2020.
a) 50,000 Ventilators
It was clear since the beginning of the COVID -19 pandemic that the Country's infrastructure could get overwhelmed if at all the cases surge and building critical infrastructure was important. For augmenting the infrastructure, 50,000 'Made-in-India' ventilators were purchased under the PM CARES Fund at a cost of approximately Rs 2,000 crore.
These ventilators were provided to government-run COVID hospitals in all States/UTs, for better treatment of the critical COVID-19 cases. The ventilators are being manufactured and supplied by Bharat Electronics Limited under a license from Skanray Company.
b) Relief Measures for Migrants
The States/UTs were given a lump sum assistance of Rs 1,000 crore from the Fund. The amount was made directly accessible and at ready disposal of the District Collectors/Municipal Commissioners for strengthening their efforts in providing accommodation facilities, making food arrangements, providing medical treatment and making transportation arrangements of the migrants.
State/UT-wise funds were released on the weightage of
Population of the State/UT as per 2011 Census — 50%, weightage
Number of positive COVID-19 cases as on date — 40% weightage and
Equal share (10% weightage) for all states/UTs to ensure basic minimum sum for all states.
The funds were released to the District Collector/District Magistrate/Municipal Commissioner through the State Disaster Relief Commissioner of the States/UTs concerned.
c) Vaccine Development
A vaccine against COVID-19 was the most pressing need and Indian pharma companies, scientists, academic institutions, research labs, start-ups and industry had come together in cutting-edge vaccine design and development. To support the COVID-19 vaccine designers and developers, an amount of Rs. 100 Crore was given from PM CARES Fund as a helping hand to catalyse vaccine development. The head of this deployment was Principal Scientific Advisor to the PM so that right entities/persons are given the funds for accelerated vaccine development.
d) 1000 Oxygen Plants and 1.5 Lakh Oxygen Concentrators
PM Cares by May 2021 allocated Rs. 1000 crore for installation of an additional 1,000 dedicated Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) Medical Oxygen Generation Plants inside public health facilities in the country.
The total project cost includes supply and commissioning of the plants and Management fee of Central Medical Supply Store (CMSS) and Comprehensive Annual Maintenance Contract.
The procurement is being done by the Central Medical Supply Store (CMSS) — an autonomous body of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The plants have a warranty for the first 3 years. For the next 7 years, the project includes CAMC (Comprehensive Annual Maintenance Contract).
The fund is also procuring 1.5 Lakh Oxygen concentrators which will again be supplied to state government-run hospitals and primary health centres. Oxygen Concentrators have immensely helped the patients. The 1,50,000 units of 'Oxycare' system are developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a cost of Rs 322.5 crore.
e) Rs 2,200 crore for Vaccination Drive
The fund has allocated 2200 Crores towards the vaccination program. What is important is the allocation was done in the first phase which means the vaccines went to the doctors, front line workers who have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. For January-March 2021, the vaccination cost was about Rs 2,700 crore approximately. Part of it came from the health ministry and large part of it was funded from the PM CARES Fund.
As we can see from the above timelines, it is clear that the PM CARES Fund was judiciously used for valid purposes. It has always revolved around the events that are happening around or are expected to happen and funds have been deployed to augment the solutions. If the migrants needed help, the fund was pressed into action.
From vaccine development, building hospital infrastructure to the vaccination itself, the fund corpus has played a pivotal role. The very objective of quick deployment of funds is very well achieved and is very much visible. Can the naysayers deny any of the above?
The author is a public policy expert and social activist based in Surat