Govt, Opposition spar over PM CARES Fund
Amid protests and heated exchanges between members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla held meetings with both sides to come out with a compromise formula.Updated: Sep 19, 2020, 06:54 IST
Questions raised by opposition parties on the alleged lack of transparency in the PM CARES Fund, and a comment by minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur about the alleged lapses in the paperwork of the PM National Relief Fund created by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948, led to the first major disruption of Parliament’s pandemic-hit monsoon session, leading to at least four back-to-back adjournments on Friday.
Amid protests and heated exchanges between members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla held meetings with both sides to come out with a compromise formula. “It is my responsibility to protect all the members, I would request Mr Anurag Thakur to say a few words on the objections raised by the other members, whatever I said was aimed to run the House effectively, if anyone’s sentiments got hurt, I personally apologise for it,” Birla said.
Following the direction, Thakur expressed regret over his remarks. “I had no intent to hurt the sentiments of anybody. If anyone is hurt, then I regret it,” Thakur said. Some other remarks made by the minister about the current Congress leadership were expunged, and are therefore not being included in this report.
During the introduction of the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill in the Lower House quickly turned into a debate about the PM CARES Fund on Friday, as Congress floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and former ministers Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari criticised the charitable trust while opposing the bill.
The bill seeks to provide the same tax treatment to the PM CARES Fund — created for emergencies and disasters such as Covid-19 — as is available to the Prime Minister National Relief Fund (PMNRF).
Adhir said when Nirmala Sitharaman started speaking, we heard her patiently. “We didn’t say anything unparliamentary. We didn’t even referred to the prime minister. How could he (Thakur) take these names?”
Opposition parties have previously demanded that the government be more transparent about the PM CARES fund, a charitable trust set up to deal with emergencies such as that posed by Covid-19 pandemic.
Thakur, who stood in support of the bill, said in response: “In 1948, the PM ordered like a king for the formation of the PMNRF. But the fund has not been registered so far... How did the fund get FCRA clearance? How did it become a trust without registration? How did you give exemptions under ATG? I want to ask you all these questions,” Thakur said as massive protests erupted.
Chowdhury lashed out at Thakur. “There was no problem when [finance minister] Nirmala Sitharaman was speaking. But [the minister] came and spoiled the situation. When Nehru is no more, why is he trying to defame him?” he asked.
Other MPs also stood up, and some left their seats to stand in the aisles, demanding an apology from Thakur.
The Lok Sabha was adjourned and a meeting of floor leaders to resolve the disruption was called.
Later, defence minister Rajnath Singh praised the Speaker for having resolved the differences.
During the arguments after the bill was introduced, Congress leader Tharoor said: “This (the bill) would permit the Government to retrospectively validate its failure and extend the time limit indefinitely while disbursing compensation to states. That is an unconstitutional violation with government undertakings in the name of ‘Act of God’.”
Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Ray demanded that the PM CARES Fund be abolished and all the money be transferred to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. “Whoever wants to be benefited from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, let them apply to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, and not to the newly formed entity called the PM CARES Fund,” he said.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh, who was involved in the ending the logjam, described Anurag Thakur as a good speaker and young leader. “The minister has clarified and now the House should run properly,” he said.
During the debate, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jayant Sinha defended the bill saying, “Credit is the life blood of the economy and if during this time of Covid-19 pandemic emergency, our financial sector suffers and the life blood of our economy is not available, it will be very difficult for our economy to recover, for companies to get the credit that they deserve, for MSMEs to be able to get working capital loans and also for smaller entrepreneurs to be able to fund their activities and prosper.”