Pervez Bari | Clarion India
URGING people to contribute generously to fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the other day, announced setting up of Prime Minister Citizen Assurance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) Fund. The Prime Minister is the chairman of the trust while Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister are among its members.
The BJP-led NDA government seems to have a penchant for coining acronyms with a prefix “PM”. PMSBY, PMJJBY, PMJDY, PMKISAN… the list is endless. Through these schemes with “PM” prefix, they seek to gain political mileage for their supreme leader turning any adverse situation in the country to their advantage.
In the first place, there was no need of such fund. There is no dearth of revenue with the government. The government has increased excise duty on petroleum products even when crude prices fell globally. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), after a change of guard, has become generous enough to meet the demands of the government. Where all the fund is going? What’s intriguing is that the government is treating disbursement of MNREGA arrears as a relief.
The nomenclature of the controversial fund, PM CARES, is meticulously designed to mean that it’s a PM’s personal largesse. The words are tactically chosen and phrased to give undue advantage to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If not cheap politics, what is it? Is it the time to indulge in self-aggrandisement at a time when the country is facing turmoil in the wake of Coronavirus outbreak?
When there already exists Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) with “pucca” accounting and auditing, where was the need for a separate fund with only BJP ministers as its members. It’s nothing but a ploy to generate money through corrupt means in the name of relief.
The creation of the new funding apparatus with an unsurprising appellation is meant to promote the image of Modi at a time when his popularity is on the downslide after the landslide victory in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But then, with Narendra Modi at the helm, such moves are a foregone conclusion.
A tweet by Lok Sabha MP and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor aptly describes the fund.
This is important. Why not simply rename PMNRF as PM-CARES, given the PM’s penchant for catchy acronyms, instead of creating a separate Public Charitable Trust whose rules & expenditure are totally opaque? @PMOIndia you owe the country an explanation for this highly unusual step. https://t.co/qRhX0T1PmB
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 30, 2020
This new initiative, called PM CARES, is just a marketing programme for our prime minister. That he is caring us is a poor piece of idea in the time of uncertainty.
The publicity stunt involved in the creation of the fund cannot be overlooked. The self-serving move is likely to go unchallenged as people are living in fear. Concerned over their very survival, who will raise relevant questions.
If the PM really cares for his citizens, he could have opted for a name on the lines of CITIZENS-CARES or INDIA-CARES. With no Opposition party or civil society member on the panel, there won’t be a check on the way the fund is utilised. The question arises will the contributors to the fund be deemed ‘quid pro quo donors’ or the funds received will be apportioned for schemes with known ‘offset partners’ at the helm.
The rules framed for this new fund and for the existing PM’s National Relief Fund are a study in contrast. They indicate how substantial diversionary adjustments could be done in the absence of a set of rules for transparency. With just the PM and his three trusted ministers on board one can imagine the fate of the fund.
It would have been in the fitness of things had the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) explained the logic behind the new fund name. A clarification could have set at rest allegations of narcissism behind the nomenclature. But then everything this government does is opaque like. Most relief funds rather than being utilised as per plan are diverted.
This fund should have been earmarked for preparing individuals for an impending crisis. But with the entry of corporate houses and involvement of big money it acquires a different prism wherein ordinary citizens are kept out. Rest assured with the involvement of the corporate the purpose of the fund to rally all the countrymen stands defeated.
This is just another means to create a slush fund to feed the ruling party’s lust for money. It is the biggest act of fiscal corruption after the law on electoral bonds. Crores have already been siphoned off by corporate beggars through such funds. What has the government done with PM’s Disaster Relief money. Should it not have been utilised during this man-made humanitarian crisis of mass displacement of migrant workers?