Skip to main content

Electoral bonds scheme 'compromises' voluntary nature PM relief fund donations

By Rosamma Thomas* 
The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is meant to collect voluntary donations from the general public, either individuals or organizations, to enable assistance to people in times of natural disaster, or for expensive medical treatment. That fundamental voluntary character of the fund, however, has changed in recent years. 
The gazette notification of January 2018 announcing the Electoral Bond scheme states, in Clause 12 (2): “The amount of bonds not encashed within the validity period of fifteen days shall be deposited by the authorized bank to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund”. The Union government has, thus, through notification, directed funds to be deposited into what was meant to be purely voluntary.
Commodore Lokesh Batra, who has been campaigning for transparency in government functioning, holds that once a gazette notification has been issued directing that funds be deposited into the PMNRF, the character of the whole fund has changed, and it must, without doubt, become a matter covered under the Right to Information Act.
The Central Public Information Officer, Prime Minister’s Office, in response to an appeal filed by Commodore Batra in October 2020, stated: “The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is not a public authority under the ambit of Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, relevant information in respect of PMNRF may be seen on the website – pmnrfgov.in.”
It is pertinent to cite history here: A Press Information Bureau release of January 24, 1948 states: “At no time has the necessity of giving relief to vast numbers of our suffering countrymen been so great and so urgent as it is today,” the release began, detailing the plight of people moving as refugees from the newly formed Pakistan into India. 
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had been receiving donations from people wishing to help with the effort of rehabilitation, and there was a need to put a system in place to receive these funds and direct them towards relief and rehabilitation of refugees.
“Donations, which will be announced in the press, may be sent to the Central Bank of India, New Delhi, or any of the branches or sub-branches of the bank,” the 1948 release mentioned, inviting donations, and adding that donations could also be earmarked for specific purposes, like medical relief, education or care of orphans.
Contributions flowing from budgetary sources of the government or from balance sheets of public sector undertakings are not accepted in the Fund; conditional contributions are also not accepted, even though donors may indicate their preferences.
The corpus of the fund, drawn entirely from voluntary donations, was invested in scheduled commercial banks and other agencies, and disbursals were made with the approval of the prime minister. A judgment of the Delhi High Court in 2018 stated that in 1973, PMNRF was registered as a “Trust” for purposes of offering exemption from income tax; in 1985, the management of the trust was handed over to the prime minister.
The Delhi HC ruling holds that since disbursals are made under the discretion of the prime minister in his capacity as a constitutional authority, these must be taken to be official decisions. “As is evident from foregoing, it can be reasonably concluded that there exists governmental control in the management of PMNRF. Therefore, the conditions in Clause (i) of Section 2(h)(d) are satisfied. 
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) found that over Rs 20 crore has been deposited into PMNRF through the Electoral Bond scheme
Accordingly, PMNRF is held to be a “public authority” within the scope of RTI Act,” the court ruled.
PMNRF has not been constituted by Parliament, and the Fund, since about 1973, is recognized as a Trust under the Income Tax Act. It is managed by the prime minister, who may delegate his responsibility; the work of the PMNRF is carried out by the prime minister, assisted by officers and staff on an honorary basis. It operates from the Prime Minister’s Office and does not pay any license fee. 
It was formed soon after independence, and the initial 1948 press release mentions that the president of the Congress party would be on its managing committee. PMNRF is exempt under the Income Tax Act, 1961 for return purposes. Contributions are 100% deducted from taxable income.
Through applications under the Right to Information, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) found that over Rs 20 crore has thus been deposited into PMNRF through the Electoral Bond scheme.
How then, asks the defence forces veteran, can the PMNRF claim that it is comprised entirely of voluntary donations? “Billionaires buy electoral bonds and make donations to political parties without paying bank charges or commission. Political parties receive these large amounts without paying taxes. It is the common people, taxpayers, who are burdened with the cost of printing the electoral bonds and paying the bank charges for them.”
Given that the deposits from the Electoral Bond scheme are made through a notification and are not voluntary, are there not matters of law that need to be attended to? If the 1948 press release were honoured, however, and all donations were announced in the press, transparency could have been ensured without repeated RTI applications.
---
*Freelance journalist

Comments

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Demand to withdraw 'anti-environment, anti-adivasi' forest conservation rules 2022

By Gopinath Majhi*  The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a coalition of adivasis and forest dwellers’ organisations, has sent a memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising serious concerns over Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, notified by the Centre on June 29.  Contending that recent amendments and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, CSD demands that the 2022 FC Rules should be rescinded forthwith. Demanding withdrawal of such anti-people and anti-environment rules CSD Odisha organised a protest Dharana in front of State Assembly today on 25th November 2022 and submitted memorandums to the Hon’ble Governor of Odisha, Chief Secretary and Commissioner-cum-Secretary, ST & SC Development Department for conveying our concerns against the FC Rules 2022 to the Central Government for its withdrawal. The memorandums w

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w