February 26, 2021

Centre withdraws widely-criticised order on international webinars and conferences

Advocacy & Government: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has withdrawn its order that required academic and scientific institutions to seek prior approval before organising any international online seminar or conference.

In a fresh order issued two days ago, the MEA said that the November 25th guidelines regarding political clearance for international conferences, seminars, and training would no longer be applicable in view of the easing of restrictions on travel and assembly of people. All such events would, however, continue to be governed by the same rules and regulations that were applicable to political clearances prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, going forward such webinars will fall under the purview of the home ministry. So far, this ministry has not issued any directives on webinars. There is also some confusion regarding this handover since home ministry guidelines restrict themselves to face-to-face conferences, not online events. They also deal with issuance of visas to international delegates, which is immaterial in case of webinars.

The fresh order comes in the wake of objections to the November 25th order by the scientific community. Two leading academies in the country—Indian Academy of Sciences and Indian National Academy of Sciences—had written to the government seeking withdrawal of the order, saying such restrictions could halt all topical scientific discussions.

Read this article to learn about how to put together a great webinar.

May 20, 2021

Home Ministry extends validity period of FCRA registration certificates

Fundraising & Communications: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued a circular extending the validity of FCRA registration certificates to September 30th, 2021. This applies to all FCRA licences that have expired or will expire between September 29th, 2020 and May 31st, 2021. The decision to extend the deadline has been driven by the exigencies arising from the COVID-19 situation.

FCRA refers to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010, which permits charitable organisations based in India to raise funds from foreign sources.

The order also clarified that nonprofits that have already opened an account and have the requisite permission to receive foreign aid, can henceforth receive it only in these newly-opened accounts.

The FCRA law was amended in September 2020 to include a clause that mandated that all nonprofits receiving foreign aid must necessarily open an account in State Bank of India’s New Delhi Main Branch. The government had initially set the deadline for this account opening as March 31st, 2021; it later extended it to June 30th, 2021 after several nonprofits argued in court that there had been delays because necessary approvals from MHA had not been received.

Several organisations have not been able to receive foreign funds during the crisis caused by the second wave, and this has impacted their COVID-19 relief efforts. Relaxing the foreign funding rules could significantly help organisations ramp up their operations to help individuals, supply critical healthcare equipment, and respond to communities in rural areas.

Read this article to know how amending the FCRA can have unforeseen implications.

May 20, 2021

Corporate spending on oxygen support and medical equipment now counts as CSR

Philanthropy & CSR: The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has issued a circular that allows corporate spending on health infrastructure for COVID-19 care to qualify as corporate social responsibility (CSR) expenditure.

This includes setting up medical oxygen generation and storage plants, manufacturing and supply of oxygen concentrators, ventilators, cylinders, and other medical equipment to counter COVID-19.  

The announcement comes at a time when all efforts are being directed towards expediting efforts to support the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

According to the circular, companies can now undertake projects and activities in collaboration with other companies using CSR funds. Additionally, they can contribute to specified research and development projects, as well as publicly funded universities and certain organisations that conduct research in science, technology, engineering, and medicine.

The government had earlier clarified that setting up makeshift hospitals and temporary COVID-19 care facilities would also be considered a CSR activity. Rajesh Verma, the Corporate Affairs Secretary, has requested businesses to consider converting vacant office buildings into COVID-19 facilities to cater to the rapidly increasing caseload.

Read this article to understand why media attention on COVID-19 deaths due to lack of oxygen in big cities has skewed donor priorities.