May 4, 2021

Demand for work under NREGA rose by 89 percent in April 2021

Livelihoods: The demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA) increased by 89 percent to 2.54 crore households in April this year, against 1.34 crore in April 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Rural Development.

This is the highest demand in any April since compilation of this data started in 2013. This rise coincides with the exodus of migrant workers from cities to their villages on the back of restrictions such as curfews and lockdowns imposed by states to curb the surge in COVID-19 infections.

An average of 1.6 crore rural households have demanded work in April over the last eight years. April 2020 recorded the lowest demand during these years as work was partially suspended due to the nationwide lockdown.

With NREGA being a demand-driven scheme, a top government official told Economic Times that the rural development ministry is constantly monitoring the situation, and that funds would be made available as and when required.

The Centre had allocated INR 73,000 crore to the scheme in FY 2021-22, which is 34 percent less than the INR 1.11 lakh crore spent last fiscal. The original budgeted spending for the scheme for FY 2020-21 was around INR 60,000 crore but was increased last year to meet the surge in demand due to the national lockdown and large-scale reverse migration to villages.

Read this article on how putting women at the front and centre of NREGA can change societal perceptions of what women can and cannot do.

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.