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SC refuses to grant interim relief to NGOs seeking extension of licences under FCRA

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar said it did not intend to grant any interim relief after the Centre submitted that the licences of those NGO’s that had applied within the permitted time limit had been extended.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: January 26, 2022 1:27:42 am
The court said that the organisations “can make representation to the authorities and the authorities can decide in accordance with law’. (File)

Declining to grant interim relief to NGOs seeking extension of licences under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which were not renewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs following their expiry in November 2021, the Supreme Court Tuesday asked them to “make representation to the authorities” who “can decide in accordance with law”.

The bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar said it did not intend to grant any interim relief after the Centre submitted that the licences of NGOs which had applied within the permitted time limit had been extended.

“We have heard the parties in the matter of interim relief. The petitioner has sought directions that those NGOs who had FCRA approval in 2021 should be allowed to continue. On this, the Solicitor General submits that those who had applied within cut-off time, their previous registration will be considered. We do not intend to pass any orders,” it said.

The bench was hearing a plea by Houston-based NGO Global Peace Initiative and its founder, K A Paul, an evangelist, challenging “the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs vide which it has cancelled/refused to renew the registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 of close to 6,000 non-governmental organizations”.

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Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde cited the work done by NGOs during the Covid-19 pandemic and said a decision regarding their licences should not be enforced during the time of the pandemic.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said there is a time limit under the statute. He said the licences of 11,594 NGOs that applied for renewal within that period have already been extended. The government, he said, is conscious of this.

He also raised questions on the locus standi of the petitioner NGO, asking “How is the Houston-based NGO concerned with this?… I don’t know what is the purpose of this PIL. Something is amiss.”

The bench then said it was not considering any interim relief and that the petitioners should wait for its judgement on another petition challenging amendments made to the Act in 2020 — a bench headed by Justice Khanwilkar had reserved its judgement on that petition on November 9, 2021.

Hegde then said licences of those organisations which apply within the next two weeks should be extended.

The bench told him: “Mr Hegde, make representation. If they want to consider, they will consider.”

The petitioners said that work done by these NGOs helped millions of Indians and the “sudden and arbitrary cancellation of FCRA registration… violates the rights of the organizations, their workers as well as the millions of Indians who they serve. This is especially relevant at a time when the country is facing the third wave of the Covid-19 virus”.

They said “the role of NGOs in helping combat the pandemic has been acknowledged by the Central Government, the Niti Aayog and the Prime Minister’s Office itself. Cancellation of the licences of close to 6000 NGOs at this time will hamper relief efforts and lead to denial of aid to citizens in need”.

The plea submitted that “the FCRA Amendment Act, 2020 brought in a number of onerous conditions upon the registered entities under the FCRA, which has significantly hampered their activities and operations. In fact, most organizations that are facing non-renewal/ cancellation of their FCRA registration are doing so in light of their inability to meet the conditions imposed by the 2020 amendments”.

The petitioners said the MHA, in its December 31, 2021 order extending the validity of registration of certificates of NGOs whose applications are pending before it, also stated that “in case of refusal of the application for renewal of certificate of registration, the validity of the certificate shall be deemed to have expired on the date of refusal of the application of renewal and the association shall not be eligible either to receive foreign contribution or utilise the foreign contribution received”.

“It appears that the MHA has relied on the non-fulfilment of the same provisions which were under challenge” — in the petition on which the court has reserved judgement — “to cancel/refuse renewal of close to 6000 NGOs,” the petitioners said.

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