The Centre announced on Wednesday it has extended the time limit for the implementation of the new Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act or FCRA regime, a move that will bring relief to scores of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the country in the thick of the Covid crisis. An order issued by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has said that the deadline will now be September 30, 2021, for obtaining valid FCRA registration and the end of June for opening an FCRA account with the State Bank of India, Delhi, in accordance with the rules.
The ministry has effectively given a four-month extension to those whose FCRA registration was expiring or had expired.
The order issued by the foreigners division of the MHA cited the pandemic as the reason for the step.
“Keeping in view the exigencies arising out of the Covid-19 situation and to ensure smooth transition to the amended FCRA regime, the central government in exercise of the powers conferred by section 50 of the FCRA 2010 has further decided that the registration certificates expiring during the period between 29th September 2020 and upto 30th September, 2021 shall remain valid upto 30th September 2021, " the order said.
NGOs had earlier been given time till May 31 to obtain their registration certificates.
A separate order said, “The existing FCRA account holders have now to open the FCRA account in the New Delhi main branch (NDMB) of the State Bank of India, 11 Sansad Marg, New Delhi -110001 up to 30th June 2021 or earlier." It added that after this date, the NGOs/associations/persons will not be eligible to receive any foreign contribution in any account other than the FCRA account opened at SBI, Parliament Street.
The Centre had amended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act last year, introducing a new regime. NGOs had requested for an extension of at least six months to migrate to the new regime citing the pandemic and their inability to help Covid-affected individuals and families because of the new FCRA requirements that have been called stringent.
The BJP-led central government has in recent years stepped up scrutiny of many non-profit groups, cancelling or suspending licences of thousands of NGOs on charges of misreporting of donations.
Following the amendment in rules, the MHA issued a notification in November last year, stating that NGOs must have existed for at least three years and spent Rs 15 lakh in voluntary activities to be eligible to receive money from abroad. It also said office-bearers of such organisations seeking registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act must submit a specific commitment letter from the donor indicating the amount of foreign contribution and the purpose for which it is proposed to be given, apart from several other changes. Some NGOs have alleged that the new rules have impaired their ability to assist disadvantaged people, particularly at a time when the second wave of Covid-19 has overrun the country.