Updated: February 1, 2021 11:43:34 am
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has made the government’s prior clearance mandatory for hosting international conferences, trainings, and seminars online and also forbidden such virtual events on themes related to India’s security, Northeast states, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh or any other issue concerning the country’s “internal matters”.
The fresh set of guidelines, issued in November last year and part of the new “approval procedure” notified by the MEA for organising virtual events, apply to all government ministries and departments, Public Sector Undertakings, public-funded universities, and organisations controlled and run by the Union and state governments.
The organisers of the virtual event will now have to approach their respective “administrative secretary” for approval regarding the theme and the list of participants. For instance, a Central university keen on hosting an online international conference will have to seek prior clearance from the Ministry of Education. But matters related to internal matters and security will be a no-go area.
“While giving permission, the respective Ministry should ensure that the subject matter for online events is not related to security of State, Border, North East states, UT of J&K, Ladakh or any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters,” states MEA’s Office Memorandum dated November 25. However, the document does not elaborate or define what would qualify as the country’s internal matter.
The new approval process has the academic community worried. “There is no problem writing letters to the government for permission. We had been writing to MEA anyway to facilitate visas for foreign speakers for offline conferences. The problem is that government responses are always delayed or come just in time. Now that we are expected to approach them for all online conferences too only means more delays. It will become difficult to now organise online conferences,” said an IIT director who did not wish to be identified.
MEA has also cautioned against hosting online conferences on IT applications and platforms either controlled or owned or hosted by agencies or countries hostile to India. The Home Ministry had issued an advisory in April last year saying Zoom, the video conference app, is not a safe platform. Since then, government officials have been avoiding meetings hosted on the platform. However, the MEA’s document on online conferences doesn’t name any specific platform.
Besides, the ministry has advised discretion and scrutiny when it comes to data and content shared during online conferences.
According to government sources, the new set of guidelines were issued since the Covid-induced lockdown had forced many to switch to virtual seminars and conferences this year, and there wasn’t any government oversight for these online events.
Earlier, organisers of international conferences usually sought prior clearance from the MEA only when the event was related to sensitive subjects, security and internal matters, and involved foreign funding and sponsorship.
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