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

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Kailash Satyarthi NGO makes slum kids laud RSS founder Hedgewar as freedom fighter

By Rajiv Shah  In a move which may raise many an eyebrow, a Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi-supported child rights NGO has celebrated Prime Minister Narendra Modi-intitiated Har Ghar Tiranga by commemorating 75 freedom fighters by "narrating their famous deeds and chanting slogans of each leader", including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Lala Lajpat Rai and a person who had little or nothing common with the freedom movement -- RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. A communique from the Kailash Satyarthi Childrens Foundation (KSCF), which organised the event, said among the freedom fighters celebrated by 75 children on the occasion of 75 years of India's independence placing photographs of each freedom fighter included that of Hedgewar, who is alleged to have maintained a distance from Indian Independence movement led by Gandhiji. According to Hedgewar's biography, when Gandhiji launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Hedgewar sent information ev

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Gujarat's 'low-key' communalism: right-wing groups compete for anti-Muslim space

By Rajiv Shah  Noticing the emergence of a novel trend, a just-released report based on a fact-finding team's observations following its interaction in particular with Hindu and Muslim political activists, administrators and police officials, has claimed that a major reason why chasm between the two communities in Gujarat has lately reached new heights is, a veritable competition between Hindu right-wing groups and leaders to capture the existing communal space. Titled "Hindu Right, Communal Riots and Demolitions: Emerging Pattern of Communal Riots in India", the report has been prepared against the backdrop of what it calls "low intensity" communalism which has characterised rioting in Gujarat in the recent past, especially after the 2002 communal carnage, one of the worst in Independent India. Especially focusing on riots in two Gujarat towns, Himmatnagar and Khambhat, which took place on April 10, the day clashes broke also out in different parts of India on

Gujarat govt 'contradicts' MHA memo while freeing Bilkis Bano gangrape convicts

By Our Representative  The All-India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) has said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah "must answer for the decision to free Bilkis Bano's gang rapists." In a statement, AIPWA has wondered, "What was the basis of the Gujarat Government’s decision to free those men on August 15, 2022, to celebrate what the PM Modi calls India’s Amrit Kaal? Was remission and freedom a reward for rape and murder of Muslims?" The statement comes amidst an Ahmedabad-based legal rights non-pofit, which took up the cause of Bilkis Bano and fought her case right up to the Supreme Court, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), suggesting that the Gujarat government move to allow remission to the convicts contradicts the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Guidelines for Granting Special Remission to Prisoners on August 15, 2022 (75th anniversary of Independence), January 26, 2023, and again on August 15, 2023. Citing the MHA notificat

Need to ask at today's 'critical juncture' of India's history: Whose Freedom@75?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  The official propaganda states that: “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav is an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence and the glorious history of it's people, culture and achievements. This Mahotsav is dedicated to the people of India who have not only been instrumental in bringing India thus far in its evolutionary journey but also hold within them the power and potential to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of activating India 2.0, fuelled by the spirit of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. The official journey of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav commenced on 12th March 2021 which started a 75-week countdown to our 75th anniversary of independence and will end post a year on 15th August 2023.” So as India completes a landmark seventy-five years of freedom – a platinum jubilee – the only question one needs to ask at this critical juncture of the country’s history is “whose freedom@75?” Since March 2020, it has been a di

Har ghar tiranga: will the hungry bellies raise their hand to unfurl the national flag?

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Indians are going to unfurl the tricolour to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India's Independence on 15th of August 2022. Indian freedom struggle has not only shaped India as a modern constitutional democracy but also shaped the nature of state, society and citizenship. The anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggle were the four pillars of Indian freedom struggle that laid the foundation of a sovereign nation state promised to pursue a society based on socialist, scientific and secular values to ensure egalitarian citizenship rights without any form of discrimination. These inalienable values are central to the unity, integrity, peace, prosperity and progress of India as a multicultural society and secular state. It is time to celebrate these values and promises of Indian independence, a product of struggles and sacrifice of millions of working-class people across the country. India at 75 is still a young nation but old e

RSS, Sangh Parivar consider tricolour as "state flag" and not "national flag"

By Teesta Setalvad* Today, when the nation has been independent for 67 years, the Sangh Parivar is set to launch ‘Tiranga yatras’ and Satyagrahas to defend the honour of the flag and the nation. Yet when the Indian people were involved in the decades-long struggle for freedom against British imperialism, the RSS was conspicuous by its absence in the struggle. When thousands of people faced lathis, bullets and jail sentences for hoisting the tiranga and participated all over the country in satyagraha during the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements against the British Raj, the Sangh publicly took the stand that it would not take part in the movement and seldom missed the opportunity of assuring the British rulers that they would keep to the right side of colonial law and avoid any clash with the authorities. Of course the reason given for this was that the Sangh was secretly strengthening itself and would take on British imperialism only when it was strong enough to do so! A simil