Pune | Updated: February 25, 2021 9:19:36 am
Following objections raised by scientists and academics, the government has withdrawn a November 2020 order which had mandated prior political clearance for organising online conferences or seminars with “international” participation.
“In view of the easing of restrictions on travel and assembly of people by the government of India, and state governments, guidelines issued… (on) November 25 regarding political clearance for international conferences/seminars/training etc due to Covid19 pandemic are no longer applicable,” a new order by the Ministry of External Affairs, which had issued the original November 25 order, said on Wednesday.
The new order states that rules that existed prior to the pandemic would continue to be applicable to these events.
“All such events will, however, continue to be governed by the same rules and regulations that were applicable to political clearances prior to the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.
This November 25, 2020, order by MEA was reiterated by the Education Ministry on January 15 this year, asking all government institutions, including publicly funded institutions, to seek prior permission from “administrative Secretary” for holding online events. As mentioned in the November 2020 order, it had also asked the authorities considering these requests to ensure that the subject matter of such events did not relate to “security of State, Border, North East States, UT (union territory) of J&K, Ladakh, or any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters”.
Two of the top science academies in the country, representing more than 1,500 scientists and academics, had expressed concern over the directive, and written to the Education Minister saying such a directive would make it difficult to conduct any open scientific discussion. It had said that the order would “constrain the progress of science in India”.
As scientists had pointed out, the requirement for prior approval would have meant delays in permissions and uncertainties in organising events. For the government, too, it would have been practically impossible to monitor the proceedings of all virtual seminars and conferences.
Principal Scientific Advisor to the government K Vijay Raghavan and Science and Technology Secretary Ashutosh Sharma had told The Indian Express on Sunday that the concerns expressed by the scientists was being looked into, and a modification in the order could be expected.
While today’s notification suggests that the November 25 order was prompted because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and cites the “easing of restrictions on travel and assembly of people” as the reason for withdrawing it, the original order had made no mention of the epidemic. It had instead said that the directive was in response to the “references” the MEA had received “regarding the need for MEA clearance for organizing/participation in international conferences/seminars/ training etc through offline/online mode”.
Today’s notification restores status quo ante, that is the rules framed around 2008 by the Home Ministry regarding the organisation of, and participation in, international conferences in India. These relate to physical conferences and seminars, and do not have any specific instructions for online events.
Among other things, those rules say people who have been declared “persona non grata” by the government of India, or are otherwise “considered an undesirable person” should not be invited to participate in these events.
“Participants of conferences/seminars/workshops who are not given permission to visit “Restricted” or “Protected” areas in India, or areas affected by terrorism, militancy and extremism etc, viz Jammu and Kashmir, and the North Eastern States (other than the States of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland) shall not violate this condition,” it says.
Those rules also state that while participants in such conferences would be free to visit religious places or attend normal religious activities, “preaching religious ideologies, making speeches in religious places, distribution of audio or visual display/pamphlets pertaining of religious ideologies, spreading conversion etc will not be allowed”.
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