New Delhi: The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has confirmed that Coal India Ltd, a public sector undertaking, has illegally diverted at least a quarter of the funds that it had collected for over a decade and meant for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.
Responding to a right to information (RTI) application, the PMO said it received only Rs30 crore out of Rs40 crore that Coal India Ltd, a public sector undertaking, claimed to have collected towards the fund by deducting a day’s wages from its 80,000 employees.
It is still unclear what has happened to the money that didn’t reach the fund. Coal India said it would respond for this story but never did.
Coal India collected the funds on several occasions, using either natural calamities, such as earthquakes and the tsumani, or the India- Pakistan war over Kargil. Mint reported on 20 June that one of the subsidiaries of Coal India, South Eastern Coalfields Ltd, had diverted such funds to what was dubbed as a joint consultative committee account in State Bank of India run by a group of union leaders and officers at the firm.
Questions about the missing funds started arising when South Eastern had to reply to an RTI application filed by Muzibur Rehman, an employee. Following Mint’s story, Coal India chairman Partha S. Bhattacharya said the public sector company would seek an appointment with the PMO to deposit the funds that had been held back. Subsequent to the Mint story, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had directed the PMO to inquire into the allegations and submit a report, which it did last week. The report says Coal India had collected around Rs7 crore in 2005 towards the relief fund and aimed at rehabilitating people affected by the earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir. That money wasn’t deposited in the fund.
Coal India also authorized purchase of what it claims to be relief material but without seeking approval from the PMO. That spending by South Eastern Coalfields also wasn’t audited.
Similarly, during the 1990 Kargil war, Coal India collected around Rs7 crore from its employees. That money was deposited into the fund only this year and “after the initiation of this inquiry”, according to the PMO report. “We are not custodians of that part of the funds which have not been passed on to the fund,” said an official in the PMO, who did not want to be named. “So, that makes it difficult for us to suo motu (or on its own) order an investigation. We may also look at how we can better the process through which funds are sent by donors. But that will have to be after the CIC passes its order.”
One of the leaders of the RTI movement and a member of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Shekhar Singh, says the PMO should get the matter investigated. “If somebody claims to be collecting funds towards the PM’s Relief Fund and diverts funds, whose responsibility is to get the matter investigated? It is the PMO’s duty,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Fund was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1948 to assist displaced persons from Pakistan. The fund is now utilized to render immediate relief to victims of natural calamities, major accidents and riots. The fund consists of voluntary public contributions. The corpus of the fund is invested in fixed deposits and disbursements are made with PM’s approval.