Collections dry up at PM’s Relief Fund

Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group

Over the years, the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) providing ex gratia payments to people in distress has emerged as a significant gesture of solidarity and monetary help from the country’s highest civilian office. But, the contributions to the fund, which are entirely voluntary, have been dipping alarmingly over the recent years. As the unfortunate trend is setting in, disbursals made from the fund are increasing too, the latest being the support to Hyderabad blast victims.

A Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis of the PMNRF data suggests a classic demand and supply gap in terms of disbursal and collections. While the total collection for the fund in 2005-06 was at Rs 170.58 crores, it slipped to Rs 28.02 crores by the end of 2010-11 experiencing a sharp decline of 84 per cent during the period. But the silver lining is that the fund shows an overall provisional balance of Rs 1617 crores at the end of 2010-11. The figures for the year 2011-12 and 2012-13 have yet to be updated on the PMO’s website.

While the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) too has noticed the decline in contributions, it nonetheless remains positive and hopeful about spontaneous donations during calamities and other distress situations.

“This is true that contribution to the fund is declining but whenever there are any calamities, riots or any accidents people come forward and support the cause. For instance, during the 2004 tsunami, Leh cloud burst and Bihar floods many people extended their help for the victims,” a senior official at the PMO said.

Directly operated from the PMO, the PMNRF was established in 1948 with public contributions to assist displaced persons from Pakistan. It is now utilised primarily to render relief to the families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc and to the victims of the major accidents and riots. Assistance from PMNRF is also rendered for medical treatment like heart surgeries, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment, etc.

But, does the fund cover relief support for terror victims?

“Victims of terror attacks are eligible to get relief under the PMNRF since it is also an accident,” concurs the senior officer at the PMO.

While the fund doesn’t receive any budgetary allocation, contributions made to the fund are fully exempted under the income tax provisions.

This brings us to: who are the people contributing to the fund and what is their authenticity?

“The details of the donors cannot be disclosed but ever since when have started receiving online donations, people from all over the country are contributing. And the genuinity of the donors can be accessed from the fact that a large of number of people has been contributing in denominations of Rs 50, Rs 100 and Rs 200,” further adds the officer.

Is there a sustained campaign to raise donations under the fund? Prime Minister Singh has from time-to-time appealed for donations to the relief fund. And the figures seem to suggest that people have responded to his appeal. The contributions to the fund increased when the prime minister appealed on at least three different occasions - the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in 2004, the earthquake in Jammu & Kashmir in 2005 and the Kosi-led floods in Bihar in 2008.

The year-on-year comparison of the amount collected for the PMNRF throws up interesting insights. The amount collected for 2005-06 was Rs 170.58 crore which slipped to Rs 33.45 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 16.71 crore in 2007-08. However, 2008-09 was slightly better as the collection went up to Rs 122.3 crore. But in 2009-10 the collection again fell to Rs 37.65 crore.

On the other hand the disbursements have been fluctuating but more on the higher side. In 2005-06, it stood at Rs 109.21 crore and jumped to Rs 181.89 crore the following year in 2006-07. In 2007-08, the fund spent just Rs 113.02 crore while it almost doubled to Rs 216.31 crores in 2008-09. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, Rs 120.26 crore and Rs 191.29 crore were sanctioned by the PM respectively.