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Missions of mercy

Like NGOs, the funds of PM Cares should be accounted for, to the last penny

Missions of mercy

Cash crunch: Ever since the government has opened CSR funding to PM Cares Fund, even ‘good’ NGOs have been adversely impacted. Tribune photo



TRYSTS AND TURNS

Julio Ribeiro

The Modi-Shah government has applied the screws on NGOs receiving foreign aid through the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act. The new rules have deprived many Christian and Muslim religion- inspired NGOs of funds. Even earlier during Congress rule, conversion activity of Christian missionaries and possible diversion of funds to jihadi terrorists were under scrutiny of our intelligence agencies. But in 2021, many NGOs have been forced to diminish the scope of their activities.

The fund is managed by a board of trustees presided over by the PM and consisting of his Cabinet colleagues. Being a ‘private’ fund, it is beyond the orbit of CAG.

If distributing milk powder to malnourished children is going to goad them to change gods, thereby disturbing the social patterns in the countryside, there can be perceived ‘a method in the madness’! But the ‘madness’ has not stopped there. All NGOs are under attack for the simple reason that the bulk of their work could point to shortcomings in the government’s own delivery mechanisms. For example, during the lockdown that was proclaimed without any warning during the first onslaught of the Covid pandemic, tens of thousands, maybe lakhs, of migrant labour from northern states were forced to trudge on foot for hundreds of kilometres to their homes! Good Samaritans, ranging from actors to retired bureaucrats and graduates of national law schools to bleeding-heart housewives slogged day and night to feed and shelter these poor citizens. NLS alumni from Bangalore even hired private aircraft to transport some lucky ones!

The PM got credit for these missions of mercy. Yet, one such bleeding heart, an actor, is under investigation of the IT authorities for supposedly not spending all the monies he collected. Those who gave their time and money did not grudge the PM the praise because they themselves had not worked with an eye on recognition or reward but purely from compassion, an attitude of mind alien to politicians.

Like in any sphere of endeavour, there are NGOs who work because they care for the needy and the dispossessed, and there are NGOs that may harbour ulterior motives. The corporate world is aware of this phenomenon. It is careful with its money. It makes ‘due diligence’ enquiries before loosening its CSR purse. The Public Concern for Governance Trust is more than careful about how it spends donors’ money.

But ever since the Modi-Shah government has opened CSR funding to the PM Cares Fund, even ‘good’ NGOs have been adversely impacted. The corporate world, always eager to be on the right side of authority, naturally will be more than generous to PM Cares and will find its ability to support these NGOs impaired. The corporates are already committed to bolster the ruling party’s electoral coffers anonymously through electoral bonds. Now, there is the PM Cares Fund which is to be differentiated from the PM’s Relief Fund. The latter is audited by CAG. No accounts of monies spent from PM Cares are supplied to the public. The fund is managed by a board of trustees presided over by the PM himself and consisting of his main Cabinet colleagues. Being a ‘private’ fund, it is beyond the orbit of CAG.

The corporates and other donors part with their money because the PM and his other important colleagues are on the board but they cannot ask how the money is utilised! NGOs who receive money from corporates have to give a detailed account of expenditure to the donors. So, why is the PM fund exempt? It should be the first to set a good example but refuses to answer queries made under the RTI Act on the specious ground that it is a private fund.

What happens if the government changes? Do the trustees carry the money donated to the ‘private’ trust along with their private belongings? How can this be allowed? The money was given to incumbents of high office! It was given to them because of the power wielded by each trustee in his or her official capacity. Corporates and others who contribute to PM Cares do so because the PM’s name is associated with the fund. They are under the impression that it is a government fund.

There has to be institutional arrangements to handle such largesse made basically under a subtle form of duress. The source of funding of electoral bonds should also be compulsorily disclosed. Why should people not know who is propping up different political parties, what is the quid pro quo, and thereby trace the progress of democratic norms and values in the polity?

If a government employee installs a private fund that people subscribe to because he holds high public office, he would open himself to charges of corruption. But the highest ranked public servant in India has done just that and the people are supposed to trust him and his chosen ones. Modi will never tinker with pious money but what happens when incumbents change? Money collected from private sources, even for a good cause, has to be accounted for. The do-gooder actor, Sonu Sood, is being hounded by the IT department, eager to tax monies not spent on the purpose for which it was collected.

I appeal to Modi’s sense of decency and patriotism to disclose the names and details of the sum received in the PM’s fund and details of expenditure therefrom. When I set out to write this piece I did so because of frustration at not receiving even the promised funds from corporates to carry on with our mission of instilling good values in our youth. But as I proceeded, I realised that Modi had the higher objective of plucking lives from the jaws of Covid. He should say so and publicly account for each rupee received. Otherwise, there will be a sneaking suspicion that some monies, if not all, are diverted to the now common practice of buying elected legislators to achieve majorities in state Assemblies after a loss at the hustings.

I also appeal to him to make purchase of electoral bonds an open affair, known to all voters so that they can make informed choices. For some reason, the courts are hesitating to examine the legality of these bonds. But surely, a party wedded to people’s good should not hide behind judicial hesitation to perpetuate lop-sided funding of political parties.


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