The Delhi High Court on Tuesday took strong exception to the Centre filing a one-page reply to a petition demanding that the PM Cares Fund be declared as a ‘State’ under law. Observing that the PM Cares Fund is “an important issue”, the High Court asked the Centre to file a more detailed and thorough reply to the petition.
“You have filed a reply. One page reply to such an important issue. Nothing beyond that? There is not even a whisper of what the petitioner is arguing. The issue is not so simple. You file a reply. We want an extensive reply,” the bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad noted.
The High Court directed the authorities to file a comprehensive response within four weeks and listed the matter for hearing on September 16.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the government, said that the arguments put forward by the petitioner are relevant to be decided. To this, the bench responded, stating that a detailed response needs to be filed and a verdict be passed dealing with the issue at hand. “Let an adequate reply be filed as this will definitely go to the apex court and we have to conclude and give a verdict and deal with the issue raised,” the court said.
In his petition filed in 2021, Samyak Gangwal had sought to declare the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM Cares Fund) a ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution. The petition also demanded to publish its audit reports on the PM Cares website from time to time. The High Court had earlier issued notice to the Centre on the petition.
In a brief reply to the petition filed last year, the Centre had argued that the Trust’s fund neither comes under the Consolidated Fund of India nor is it a Fund of the Government of India. ” Irrespective of whether the Trust is a ‘State’ or other authority under Article 12 of the Constitution of India or whether it is a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of section 2[h] of RTI Act, section 8 in general and that of provisions contained in sub section [e] and [j], in particular, is not permissible to disclose third party information.” Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, the Under Secretary at the PMO, said in his reply to the petition.
Asserting that the Centre has not even chosen a file to reply in case, the petitioner’s counsel Shyam Divan pointed out several mistakes in the PMO’s response, which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta dismissed as a typographical error. Chief Justice Sharma said, “I have seen it, and that is why a proper and thoroughgoing response is required.”
According to the petition submitted by Gangwal, the PM CARES Fund was established by the Prime Minister in March 2020 for the honourable goal of providing help to citizens following the COVID outbreak, and it was the recipient of significant donations.
However, the petition adds that a copy of the Trust Deed was made public by the PMCARES Fund in December 2020 on its website which states that it was not created by or under the Constitution of India, any law passed by the Parliament, or any State Legislature.
“It is questionable that a Fund, a) which has been established by the Prime Minister of India, (b) where Trustees are the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Home Minister and the Finance Minister of India, and (c) which has its office at Prime Minister’s Office South Block, New Delhi-110011 has been alleged to be a fund over which there is no Government Control,” the petition stated.