Foreigners at Online Events: Order Mandating Prior Clearance Nixed

The Centre in January stated that prior clearance will be required for virtual meetings involving foreigners.

Published
India
2 min read
Guidelines state that virtual events on topics pertaining to India’s ‘internal matters’ need clearance from the MEA. Image used for representation. 
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After facing objections from scientists and academics, the Centre on Wednesday, 24 February, withdrew an order that had made it mandatory to get clearance for organising online conferences or seminars that have “international” participants.

The order faced a lot of criticism, especially by scientific bodies, who had written to the Centre raising concerns that the order might hinder scientific and environmental discussions in India.

The Centre, while withdrawing the order cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary reason for it to be passed, even though the original order had no such mention.

WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL ORDER?

In January 2021, the Ministry of Education sent new guidelines to all academic/research institutions in the country stating that a prior clearance is required for any virtual meeting/seminar/conference/workshop involving foreign scientists/academics.

According to the memorandum, the relevant authority was to also ensure while giving permission that the subject matter for online events is not related to Security of State, Border, North East States, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh or other issues which are “clearly/purely” related to India’s internal matters.

These guidelines were a reiteration of the November 2020 order that had mandated government institutions, including publicly funded institutions, to seek prior permission from “administrative Secretary” for holding online events that see participation of international citizens.

WHY HAS THE ORDER BEEN WITHDRAWN?

The Centre, while withdrawing the order, cited that it was passed in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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25 regarding political clearance for international conferences/seminars/training etc due to COVID-19 pandemic are no longer applicable,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Wednesday.

“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,” the Ministry said.

WHAT ARE THE ORIGINAL GUIDELINES?

According to The Indian Express, the original rules state that 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 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.”

These guidelines, which were framed around 2008 for physical international conferences in India, do not have specific instructions for online events.

(With inputs from The Indian Express.)

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