Opposition trains guns on PM CARES

Lok Sabha passes taxation Bill; Congress, Trinamool MPs say it is meant only to clear the fund.

The Lok Sabha cleared the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020, here on Saturday, despite strong criticism from the Opposition which said the Bill was aimed at giving an “all clear to the PM CARES Fund”.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Bill will replace an ordinance brought in to help the common man during the COVID-19 times.

‘Absolutely transparent’

Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur in his response to the debate on the Bill, said the PM CARES Fund was absolutely transparent and had been set up under the law and registered as a Trust under the 1908 Act.

“An independent auditor has been appointed and it is the same auditor which audits the PM National Relief Fund. Nobody is forced to donate to this fund. The Trustees of the PM CARES Fund are all ex officio members, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance,” he said.

Questioning the distrust about the fund, Mr. Thakur asked, “Is there any past experience which has caused it? PM CARES Fund today has five times more funds than the PM National Relief Fund.”

The Minister added that earlier, “public funds and government machinery were misused and diverted by one specific family-owned foundations/funds and charitable trust in India.”

Questioning why the members of “this one family aren’t behind bars despite the repeated accusations”, Congress leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the government must give clear details of Chinese donations to the PM CARES Fund.

“I also want to ask the need for creating a parallel fund when PM National Relief Fund is there,” he said.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said the “deeply problematic Bill” was being brought in to give an all clear to the PM CARES Fund which is covered in non-transparency.

“The discriminatory provisions of the Fund also weaken the rights and resources available to State governments by taking away statutory promises made under the new GST regime. It corners the public funds for PM CARES depriving even the Chief Minister’s relief funds and in turn making State governments suffer,” she said.

‘Foreign donations’

Questioning the government’s decision to accept contributions for PM CARES, which, she said, is not open for audit, from firms in China operating spy organisations and running mobile applications banned in India, Ms. Moitra said, “This unverified foreign donation is dangerous.”

She added that the government was also hiding the fact that 70% of funds to PM CARES came from public sector undertakings, which was also public money.

Seeking to understand the logic behind having multiple funds, RSP MP N.K. Premachandran said, “The government must explain the logic behind having a separate fund despite the existence of the PM national relief fund. PM CARES fund lacks transparency as not audited by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Even RTI is not applicable.”

Manickam Tagore of the Congress said through the PM CARES Fund, the only people served were corporates that turned black money into white. “The government must tell us why the government is privatising airports/telecom and other services. Who exactly is running the country? Is this a democracy,” he asked.

Though supporting the Bill, K. Ram Mohan Naidu of the TDP said the government should allow transparency in public funds. “This will ensure reinforcement of public trust. The government should consider releasing GST revenue to States,” he said.

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