The government has withdrawn a November 2020 order mandating prior official clearances for online international conferences and webinars organised by publicly-funded universities following criticism from a section of academics and scientists.
The Ministry of External Affairs had issued the “restrictive” order on November 25. In a new order on Wednesday, however, it said the guidelines issued on November 25 are “no longer applicable.”
“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25 regarding political clearance for international conferences/seminars/training etc due to Covid19 pandemic are no longer applicable,” reports quoted the new order as stating.
However, rules existing prior to the pandemic would remain applicable for such webinars, the latest order clarified. It said such events would continue to be governed by the same rules that were “applicable to political clearances prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Interestingly, though the latest order suggests the November 25 guidelines were prompted by pandemic, the earlier order had mentioned no such things. The original order had rather said that MEA’s instruction was based on “references” it had received regarding clearance for international conferences, according to reports.
The move was criticised by two top science academies which had written to the Education Minister stating the difficulties they would face over conducting open scientific discussion.
Partha Majumder, president of Indian Academy of Sciences, underlining the importance of sharing information among global scientific community through public communication and discussion, had said any efforts to thwart it would be detrimental to scientific progress.
The Indian Express reported two top central officials had said that authorities are looking into the concerns expressed by the scientists and the order could be modified.
The latest order scrapping the November 25 guidelines restores status quo ante on the conducting of webinars, which is going back to rules framed by the Home Ministry around 2008 regarding international conferences in India. However, these were related to physical seminars and nothing specific about online events.