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The Supreme Court today issued notice in a petition seeking the transfer of all contributions made to the PM CARES Fund set up for COVID-19 relief to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
The plea filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) also seeks the setting up of a National Plan under the Disaster Management Act (DM Act).
Notice was issued by the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul, and MR Shah.
At the start of today's hearing, the Bench noted,
"In the suo motu plea that we dealt with during the migrant case, we have already addressed issues of National Plan for COVID-19 and minimum standard requirement. The last transfer of funds we can take up along with the suo motu plea."
Appearing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave urged the Court to issue immediate orders.
To this, Justice Bhushan responded,
"[It is] Difficult to pass ad interim order at this stage."
The Court also noted that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, did not submit the National Plan. Mehta responded that the Plan "was on the website".
The Centre was then directed to file an affidavit in the matter within four weeks.
As the hearing drew to a close, Dave interjected, saying that the Court was dictating what the Solicitor General was dictating.
Mehta took exception to this statement, saying,
"This is contemptuous! Some courts have to take cognisance of this behavior."
The Bench then said,
"You cannot say this. We are issuing notice. Let the counter be filed."
Despite Dave's plea for the Court to hear the matter in two weeks, it was listed for a date after four weeks.
Apart from seeking a transfer of contributions from the PM CARES Fund, the plea filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) also seeks the setting up of a National Plan under the Disaster Management Act (DM Act).
A minimum standard for relief to be provided for COVID-19 patients must also be laid down by the government in conformity with Section 12 of the DM Act, the PIL states.
The plea says that in the face of an unprecedented crisis that hit the country, passing of ad hoc and emergent orders was understandable. But after over two months since the lockdown was imposed, there is a need for a robust National Plan, it is averred.
CPIL avers that prominent Indian epidemiologists and experts in public health have criticised the handling of this pandemic by the Indian government and have also given significant recommendations to deal with the crisis. In light of the same, an expert body must be consulted for the Centre to draft a National Plan.
Further, it is pointed out that in the face of a health crisis, the NDRF is not being utilized by the authorities and a separate fund, the PM CARES fund, which is outside the ambit of the DM Act has been set up. This is in direct violation of the statutory provisions under the DM Act, the plea points out.
The petitioner also raises the issue of opaqueness surrounding the PM CARES Fund, pointing out that it is not subject to a mandatory CAG audit and has been said to be outside the purview of the Right to Information Act.