External affairs ministry withdraws widely criticised international webinar order
The external affairs ministry has withdrawn its widely criticised directive making permission mandatory for international online seminars but said such webinars would be governed by home ministry rules.
The order created confusion as the home ministry guidelines restrict themselves to face-to-face conferences, not online events, and also deal with the visa requirements of international delegates, immaterial in case of webinars.
The education ministry will circulate the latest office memorandum (OM) of the external affairs “as it is”. Neither ministry clarified if permission would be required henceforth for online international seminars.
The external affairs ministry on Wednesday night issued the OM under the subject “Guidelines regarding MEA clearance for international conferences/seminars/training etc and Political Clearances for online participation in international events”.
“In view of the easing of restrictions on travel and assembly of people by the government of India and state governments, guidelines… dated 25th November 2020 regarding political clearance for international conferences/seminars/training etc due to the Covid-19 pandemic are no longer applicable. All such events will, however, continue to be governed by the same rules and regulations that are applicable to political clearances prior to Covid-19 pandemic. Detailed instructions in this regard can be seen on the website of the ministry of home affairs (https://conference.mha.gov.in),” the OM, signed by Anil Kumar Rai, joint secretary (parliament and coordination), said.
The Union home ministry has not issued any directives on webinars.
“We will circulate the external affairs ministry order as it is to all institutions of higher education. We may have to seek clarification from the external affairs ministry about the requirement of approval for webinars,” a senior education ministry official said.
The education ministry had on January 15 issued guidelines mandating educational institutions to take the prior approval of the secretary of the administrative ministry for holding webinars with international participants. Earlier on November 25, 2020, the external affairs ministry had circulated identical guidelines to all ministries.
The home ministry has a long-standing policy on giving clearance to international conferences attended by foreign participants.
However, an education ministry official pointed out, the home ministry guidelines are applicable to international conferences being held in India in the face-to-face mode and the issuance of visas to foreign delegates for such events. The educational institutions send their requests to the home ministry through the education ministry.
In 2010, the home ministry had revised its guidelines according to which visas would not be granted by Indian missions if the subject of the workshop involves politically or socially sensitive subjects.
“Missions shall carefully examine the subject of conferences/seminars/workshops and visa shall not be issued for events which involve politically and socially sensitive subjects,” the 2010 guidelines said.
The guidelines also stated that missions would refer to the external affairs ministry visa applications from participants of Prior Reference Category countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, stateless persons, foreigners of Pakistani origin and participants of conferences in areas affected by terrorism, militancy and extremism such as Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.
A professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the home ministry guidelines did not deal with webinars because the conferences used to be held in the face-to-face mode before the pandemic struck.
“But the main purpose of the home ministry guidelines is to protect the sovereignty of the country from (possible controversial comments by) international as well as Indian experts and safeguard India’s image globally. Webinars are also academic discussions. In all circumstances, the home ministry norms of approval will apply to webinars too.
Whether the event is being held in person or online is immaterial,” said the professor who did not wish to be quoted.
Additional reporting by Anita Joshua