Centre Bars Publicly Funded Universities From Virtually Hosting International Events That Discuss India’s “Internal Matters”
Publicly funded institutions must seek government clearance for hosting international conferences, training, and seminars online, per new rules from the Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has also forbidden 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.”
This set of guidelines applies to all government ministries and departments, public service undertakings (PSUs), publicly funded universities and educational institutions, and governmental organisations.
Earlier, organisers of international conferences usually sought Ministry approval only when an event that involved foreign funding and sponsorship related to sensitive subjects, security, and internal matter. Now, organisers of virtual international events on any topic will have to approach their respective “administrative secretary” for approval of the event’s theme and participants.
“While giving permission, the respective Ministry should ensure that the subject matter for online events is not related to the 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 the Ministry’s Office Memorandum, dated November 25. However, the document does not elaborate or define what constitutes “internal matter” of the country.
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The new approval process has the academic community worried, with doctors, scientists, and scholars flagging concerns. While many had been working with the Ministry anyway, pre-pandemic, to facilitate visas for foreign speakers for offline conferences, requiring government approval for online conferences would make it difficult for academics to organise any, they say. Many say they are worried about the democratic implications of the newly issued guideline.
According to The Indian Express, the new set of guidelines were issued after the Covid19 pandemic forced many institutions to switch to virtual seminars and conferences, for which the government had no oversight mechanisms in place.
The Ministry has also cautioned against hosting online conferences on IT applications and platforms either controlled, owned, or hosted by agencies or countries hostile to India. “There should be a judicious selection of IT applications/platforms, medium for interaction; preference should be given for those apps having servers not controlled/hosted/owned by countries/agencies hostile to India,” says the document. However, the document neither names countries, agencies, nor platforms hostile to India.