In an earlier editorial on the future of CSR funding in post-lockdown India, we had raised doubts over the transparency of the PM CARES Fund. Turns out, The CSR Journal is not alone. Trinamool Congress leader and MP, Mahua Moitra, broke the internet with her intelligent critique on this same Central government scheme in the Lok Sabha on Saturday.
She slammed the Indian government for matter-of-factly accepting donations from Chinese companies, the gag on Right to Information on its spend and called PSUs “courtiers of the Emperor” for trying to appease the Centre by funnelling crores of public funds into this “black hole”.
Essentially, Moitra did exactly what the opposition is supposed to do; hold up an honest and enquiring mirror to the people in power.
Moitra shot into the spotlight in June 2019 for another acerbic speech in the Parliament. Her 7-point list on the chaos that “early fascism” can lead to, caught the attention of international media as well. Moitra is no puppet in Parliament. She was an investment banker before she became a political leader. So, her grasp on the monetary angle of the Fund comes from a place of knowledge.
PM CARES Fund, an oxymoron
Moitra talked about the “unfair treatment” of contributions to the state relief funds for COVID-19 activities. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has expressly declared that corporate contributions for COVID-19 relief to local and state governments do no qualify as CSR while those to PM CARES do. This includes public funds from PSUs that have spent as much as 80% of their annual CSR budget on it.
“It diverts funds from local communities into this dark hole where not even a speck of light can enter. Coal India has committed Rs. 221 crore to a fund, while it cannot contribute to the state relief funds of West Bengal and Jharkhand, where it has 90% of its operations… it’s almost like the courtiers of the emperor are competing with each other to give gifts to the emperor with public funds,” Moitra said.
Such a biased directive completely disincentivises CSR contribution. Moitra talked about how Finance Minister Sitharaman talked about middle-class citizens donating what little savings they had, but was “strangely silent” on the 38 PSUs doling out over Rs. 2,100 crores to PM CARES. Private companies are behaving in much the same way. They are pouring the majority of the monies from the CSR budget allocation into the Centre’s Fund so that compliance on spending is taken care of.
Restricting RTI on PM CARES prevents citizens and corporates from finding out exactly where and how their donations are being spent. Where does that leave room for equal and fair distribution of resources across the length and breadth of the country?