New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has in its final order asked the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to undertake corrective action on the issue of irregularities in depositing funds collected for the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) by the state-owned Coal India Ltd.

“It is expected that the PMO will take remedial action in a matter where it would appear that the name of (the fund) has been invoked by a pubic authority acting in a manner most unbecoming," states the CIC order. “We have asked the PMO to conduct a detailed inquiry on the basis of the report submitted before CIC," said Wajahat Habibullah, the chief information commissioner.

Final order: Wajahat Habibullah, chief information commissioner.

In its final order released on Tuesday, the commission said “funds for the PMNRF and National Defense Fund have not been forwarded to this office (PMO) in time. Part of the funds collected at the time of the Kargil war for the NDF have been transmitted as late as 27 August 2007, after the initiation of this inquiry." The Kargil war happened in 1999.

The commission further noted that contributions of more than Rs7 crore for the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) earthquake relief have yet to reach the PM’s Fund. The commission observes that “PMNRF funds have been forwarded to other organizations and relief material has been purchased from PMNRF funds without any authorization from the PMNRF."

The commission also said such funds were being used as working capital and the delay has meant that the PM’s fund earned less interest. Mint first reported on the saga following a RTI plea filed by a Coal India subsidiary employee. The full scale of irregularities came to light after an inquiry by PMO showed that Coal India had illegally diverted at least Rs10 crore from the funds it had collected for over a decade and meant for the PM’s Fund.

Coal India initially claimed that the PMO’s claim of alleged misappropriation was baseless. However, on Wednesday, Coal India admitted in a letter to Mint that an aggregate of Rs48.06 crore had been collected from its employees’ wages during the last eight years but only Rs45.42 crore was actually paid to the PM’s fund. Coal India had collected these funds for five major occasions, namely Kargil war, Gujarat earthquake, Tsunami floods, Orissa Cyclone and J&K earthquake. Coal India defended its actions by saying it spent the balance directly for relief work, which the commission has held is unauthorised.

Meanwhile, the coal ministry—the administrative head of Coal India—in a separate response, conceded that there had been “inordinate delay in depositing the balance fund to the PMNRF by the CIL" and directed it “to ensure that in future the monies collected for the PMNRF are deposited with the Fund without any delay."

While, it did not agree that there was a case of misuse of funds, as all the money was utilized by workers and the management “for the purposes directly related to disaster relief," the ministry also directed Coal India chairman to undertake a detailed inquiry.

M.K. Pandhe, president of the Centre of India Trade Unions and a senior CPM member as well as part of the joint union-management consultative panel handling the funds with Coal India, insisted: “You cannot say that there was diversion of funds but yes the money has been transferred late."

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister dated 23 October, Pandhe said the panel had sought to directly spend the money for relief work because “the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund does not reach the affected victims". The PMO declined to comment on that allegation saying Singh would respond directly to Pandhe.