A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah took note of the plea by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, headed by advocate Prashant Bhushan, seeking drawing up of a national Covid plan and raising the issue of existence of PM CARES Fund while a NDRF was already in existence under the Disaster Management Act.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the petitioner, argued that PM CARES Fund lacks transparency. He also questioned why there is no national plan during the time of Covid. "The issue of transferring funds from all other funds, including PM CARES, is also there, but that's a secondary issue... you cannot do something that the law prevents you to do, by doing it in a different way. This is a private trust where ministers are trustees," Dave contended.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing an NGO, argued before the bench on the issues originating in the absence of a national plan to tackle Covid-19 pandemic. Sibal cited the Constitution's Section 21 regarding a district plan, where minimum requirements regarding water, shelter etc. need to be provided. "Where are these standards?" he asked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, argued that the National Disaster Management Plan, from 2019, included biological disaster, as during that time, no one knew about Covid-19. He said Sibal's argument was "factually wrong".
The Centre had informed the apex court that there are several funds which are either established earlier or now for carrying out various relief works, and PM CARES is one such with voluntary donations.
The affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs had said: "It is submitted there exists a fund stipulated under section of the DMA (Disaster Management Act) which is called NDR Fund. However, mere existence of a statutory fund would not prohibit the creation of a different fund like PM CARES Fund which provides for voluntary donations."
The Centre contended that the petition seeking a direction that the funds received by PM CARES Fund to be credited to NDRF (National Disaster Response Fund) is neither maintainable on merits nor is maintainable under Article 32 as all funds other than the funds stipulated under section 46 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 are separate, different and distinct, created separately under separate provisions.
On June 17, the apex court issued notice to the Centre on the PIL seeking to transfer funds from PM CARES Fund to the NDRF.
The Centre for Public Interest Litigation, in the plea, claimed that against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NDRF is not being utilised by the authorities, and establishing the PM CARES Fund is outside the scope of the Disaster Management Act.