A petition against the centre's refusal to renew licences needed to receive funding from abroad for thousands of non-profits that could impair their vital humanitarian, advocacy and other operations in India will be heard by the Supreme Court on Monday.
The plea filed by US-based non-governmental organisation or NGO Global Peace Initiative has said the cancellation of licences can have a debilitating effect on COVID-19 relief efforts as the country is battling its third wave of infections and the work done by many of these 6,000 NGOs has helped millions of Indians so far.
The plea has sought an extension of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act or FCRA Licenses of these NGOs till at least COVID-19 remains a "national disaster" designated by the central government.
"The sudden and arbitrary cancellation of FCRA registration of thousands of these NGOs violates the rights of the organisations, their workers as well as the millions of Indians who they serve," the petition said.
"This is especially relevant at a time when the country is facing the third wave of the COVID-19 virus... The cancellation of the licenses of close to 6000 NGOs at this time will hamper relief efforts and lead to denial of aid to citizens in need," it said.
The petition added that the role of NGOs in helping combat the pandemic has been acknowledged by the central government, the NITI Aayog and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office.
On January 1, the Union Home Ministry had said that the FCRA licences of over 12,000 NGOs and other organisations have expired, days after a major controversy over the non-renewal of the licence for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.
Messages released to a select group of journalists on WhatsApp attributed to "government sources" claimed nearly half of these organisations had not applied for the renewal of their licenses.
The licence for Mother Teresa's charity, however, was renewed on January 6 and is set to be valid till 2026.
But the list of NGOs now without an FCRA licence includes Oxfam India and the Oxfam India Trust, Jamia Milia Islamia, the Indian Medical Association, the Leprosy Mission, the Tuberculosis Association Of India, the Indira Gandhi National Centre For Arts, and the India Islamic Cultural Centre.
Refusing FCRA clearance has been listed by critics of the government as its way of suppressing organisations whose work or officials are not considered supportive enough of the centre.