Covid ex-gratia funds: SC pulls up AP for no response on diversion allegations

New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Andhra Pradesh government for failing to file a reply on a plea alleging diversion of hundreds of crores of Covid ex-gratia funds to a personal deposit account.

Counsel for the Andhra Pradesh government submitted before a bench headed by Justice M.R. Shah that the affidavit could not be filed as the father of the Finance Secretary was hospitalised.

At this, the bench, also comprising Justice B.V. Nagarathna, said: “The government is run by the Finance Secretary?….. We want the Chief Secretary’s affidavit.”

The counsel submitted that it was necessary that the affidavit should be filed after the Finance Secretary’s approval, and that he has been instructed to submit that no amount was diverted from Covid disaster management funds, and the funds transferred were meant for drought relief, sanctioned in 2018.

The top court emphasised that it is serious, if funds were used for other purposes.

After a hearing in the matter, the bench said it was giving the last chance to the Chief Secretary to explain the issue and scheduled the matter for further hearing on May 13.

On April 13, the Supreme Court restrained the state government from transferring funds from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to personal deposit account, saying it is a very serious issue.

The plea filed by Palla Srinivasa Rao, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, said when the top court is actively and continuously monitoring the implementation of its October 2021 order, dealing with the issue of disbursing ex-gratia assistance of Rs 50,000 to next of kin of those who died due to Covid-19, the diversion of funds by the AP government from the SDRF to personal deposit account is not only against the law of the land but is also contemptuous in nature.

Advocate Gaurav Bansal, representing Rao, had submitted that AP government diverting funds from SDRF to personal deposit account, is not permissible under the Disaster Management Act. The plea cited a letter issued on March 12, by the Union Minister of State for Finance, which crystal clearly says that Andhra Pradesh government received an amount of Rs 324.15 crore as the central share of State Disaster Response Fund and an amount of Rs 570.91 crore under National Disaster Response Fund from the Centre.

The letter also mentioned that Andhra Pradesh has transferred the funds from state Disaster Response Fund to Personal Deposit Account without spending on immediate relief, the plea said, contending that as the statute prohibits utilisation of funds deposited under National Disaster Response Fund and State Disaster Response Fund, the Andhra Pradesh government has no authority to divert the said fund to any other use.

The plea also sought a direction to the Andhra Pradesh government to submit the details of funds which they have utilised under State Disaster Response Fund during the Covid pandemic.

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