A Mumbai-based social activist’s curiosity led to the revelation that most of the nearly Rs 900 crore collected from citizens after the tsunami struck India in December, 2004 to provide immediate relief to the victims, is lying unused with the authorities. Mr Shailesh Gandhi had sought information about the accounts and the functioning of the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund in June, last year. But the PMO refused to divulge information under the Right to Information Act, claiming it was not covered by the RTI.
Later, the applicant went to the Central Information Commission which in March ruled that the relief fund is an intrinsic part of the PMO and the information would have to be provided under RTI. “In 2004-2005 more than Rs 900 crore was donated to the PM’s Relief Fund. But only Rs 101.60 crore was allocated by the government,” as per the official records available on the PM’s website. “At a time of calamity people donate generously to the PM’s Relief Fund, believing it is the best way to assist those affected by calamities. But when money either does not reach the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (as happened in the Coal India case) or remains unutilised with the government, its credibility suffers,” Magsaysay award winner and RTI activist, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, said.
“The PMO claimed that Rs 900 crore has been earmarked for the relief of tsunami victims. To verify the accuracy of the claim, I filed an RTI application to the PIO of PMO asking, ‘if there is a system of allocating funds for future disbursal each year, I want the details of the allocation made in 2003-2004, 2004-2005 and 2005-2006’,” Mr Gandhi said. The reply he got was there is “no system of prior fund allocation”. Sanction/releases are made only after the events.”