New Delhi, Mumbai: At least Rs 9,677.9 crore ($1.27 billion) has been collected in the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) fund for COVID-19 relief, according to an analysis by IndiaSpend. These donations have been made in the 52 days since this new fund was announced on March 28, 2020.

At least an additional Rs 2,098.2 crore has been pledged to the fund and Rs 7,855 crore has also been earmarked from other government sources.

On May 13, 2020, the Prime Minister’s office had announced that Rs 3,100 crore from PM CARES had been allocated for COVID-19 works, the first and only announcement on expenditure from the fund. This is 32% of Rs 9,677.9 crore collected as of May 20, 2020.

Information about funds donated to PM CARES or money spent from the fund is not widely available in public domain, and it is unclear if the fund will make its donations public--since it does not take money from the Consolidated Fund of India, it does not need to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Who has donated money to PM CARES?

We have derived the Rs 9,677.9 crore figure by tabulating press releases on the government's Press Information Bureau website, and from media reports on private companies and individuals donating and/or pledging money to the fund. The actual corpus would be higher.

Of Rs 9,677.9 crore, Rs 4,308.3 crore has been donated by government agencies and staff. Of this, at least Rs 438.8 crore has been deducted as one-day’s salary of government employees. At least Rs 5,369.6 crore of corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds have been donated by private companies, industry bodies and social organisations.

Further, Rs 1,250 crore has been pledged by government agencies, to be donated during the current financial year (2020-2021). Various private companies have pledged at least Rs 772.4 crore. Celebrities, mostly from Bollywood, have also pledged at least Rs 53.8 crore. PM CARES also receives foreign funding and Rs 22 crore has been pledged by two foreign companies, Fairfax Financial Holdings and Russia’s state-owned defence exports company, Rosoboronexport.

Donations/Pledges To PM CARES Fund
Description Amount Donated (Rs crore) Amount Pledged (Rs crore)
By government agencies (including staff salaries) Rs 4,308.3 crore Rs 1,250 crore
By private companies, industry bodies, social organisations
(including staff salaries)
Rs 5369.6 crore Rs 772.4 crore
Foreign donations Rs 22 crore
By individuals Rs 53.77 crore
Total Rs 9,677.9 crore Rs 2,098.2 crore

Source: Compiled from the Press Information Bureau releases and media reports

There are also other sources of money for COVID-19 relief such as the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), Chief Minister Relief Funds, State Disaster Management Authority funds and Rs 7,855 crore which were earmarked for discretionary spending by members of parliament.

What could Rs 9,677.9 crore buy?

The Rs 9677.9 crore in PM CARES could be used to purchase a number of things.

For example, this entire amount could purchase 145 million personal protective garments for healthcare staff, priced at Rs 666.75 each. Or the entire amount could be used to buy 2.3 billion N95 masks, priced at Rs 42. At Rs 141.60 each, 683 million protective goggles could be bought with this tranche. Shortages in personal protective gear for medical staff have been reported widely around the country.

Private labs have been asked not to charge more than Rs 4,500 for an RT-PCR test. At this rate, the money in PM CARES right now could cover 21.5 million tests. Experts have said that India is not testing widely enough. India has tested 2.4 million samples for COVID-19, as of May 19, 2020.

The amount in PM CARES could also pay for millions of train tickets for migrant workers trying to reach home. For example, a ticket on a Shramik Train from Vadodara to Lucknow costs Rs 700, and 138.2 million tickets could be bought with the money in PM CARES right now. Millions of migrant workers have been stranded in different parts of the country, as IndiaSpend has reported here and here.

PM Relief Fund has more transparency

While the PM CARES fund was set up as a trust just recently and for the purpose of “dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic”, another similar institution has existed since 1948 for similar purposes: the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF).

As of December 2019, the PMNRF has an unspent balance of Rs 3,800 crore.

The government has not explained why another fund was set up. IndiaSpend has sent queries on this to both PM CARES and PMNRF and will update this when they reply.

Both funds are more or less similar but with some key differences: Both can take foreign funding, but PMNRF discloses the quantum of its foreign funding (45% in 2018-19) as well as the total donations received and spent. Both funds offer tax benefits to donors and corporates can donate their CSR funds mandated by law (as 2% of a company’s profits) to both funds, and also avail of the tax benefits of doing so.

Other sources of funds for COVID-19 relief work

Besides PM CARES and the PMNRF, there are several other sources for money designated for COVID-19 work.

For example, Rs 7,800 crore that was available to members of parliament as part of the ‘Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme’ (MPLADS) has been taken over by the government as of April 6, 2020. The cabinet approved that MPLADS funds be made non-operational for two years, in order to “strengthen Government’s efforts in managing the challenges and adverse impact of COVID19 in the country”. The salaries and allowances of parliamentarians have also been reduced by 30% for one year, amounting to Rs 55 crore, which is also supposed to be used to tackle the pandemic.

Other organisations have also made donations, not in cash but in kind. For example, the Indian Red Cross Society donated ventilators, masks, PPEs and test kits valued at Rs 5.5 crore. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) spent Rs 3,009.6 crore on masks, cooked meals, dry ration, PPE, sanitisers, medical equipment and supplies and medical facilities. The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) plans to spend Rs 4.2 crore in research funding on COVID-19. Thousands of testing kits have been donated by international organisations like the BIll and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Struggling companies also donate to PM CARES even while their employees are in need

The donations by government departments and private companies to PM CARES have come even as some of them have thousands of workers currently facing difficulties in reaching their homes. Some of these entities have also been facing financial trouble in the recent past.

For example, construction company Larsen and Toubro contributed Rs 150 crore to PM CARES but hundreds of their workers protested in April 2020 over non-payment of their wages. The company is also reportedly facing a Rs 12,000-crore worth loss in billing and is deferring appraisals for their staff this year.

Reliance Industries announced pay cuts in May 2020 but also donated Rs 500 crore to PM CARES., a fitness startup, fired about 800 employees in May 2020 but also donated Rs 5 crore to PM CARES.

Donations from LPG delivery agents, school teachers

Thousands of government employees, at all levels, have donated money to PM CARES. In some cases, there may not have been much choice as entire government departments have purportedly pledged one day of their salaries to the fund. For example, doctors at government hospitals were asked to donate money to COVID-19 relief but many of them refused in protest as they have not been provided essential items such as protective gear.

Delivery agents for gas cylinders have donated money to PM CARES, as have school teachers and non-teaching staff in government schools across the country, of over Rs 10 crore.

Railways employees have donated Rs 151 crore even as Indian Railways works to organise trains for thousands of stranded migrant workers to travel around the country. The head and members of NITI Aayog, the Centre’s policy think-tank, have also taken a 30% salary cut for a year to donate to PM CARES.

In the private sector, notable donations have come from companies part of FICCI, which totals to Rs 5,123.5 crore. Azim Premji Foundation has committed Rs 1,000 crore to general COVID-19 relief work. Tata Group has also pledged to donate Rs 1,500 crore to COVID-19 work in general, of which Rs 500 crore is for PM CARES. Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar, Shilpa Shetty and singer Badshah have made pledges to donate Rs 25 crore, Rs 21 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, respectively.

Correction: An earlier version of the story erroneously said corporate donations to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund do not qualify as spending under the corporate social responsibility mandate. We regret the error.

(Bhuyan is a special correspondent at IndiaSpend. Salve is an IndiaSpend contributor)